Chinese Celadon Porcelain Coming Into Favor
Chinese celadon porcelain have for the last 20 years been one of the noticeable laggards in the Asian art market. While Imperial porcelain of the Ming and Qing dynasty, as well as fine jade, furniture and paintings seem to elicit endless buyer enthusiasm, rare celadons appear overlooked. While the very best pieces are not selling for a pittance, for what they are. They have seemed not to be getting the attention they deserve until recently. By recently, I mean in the last three years.
Despite the headline worthy prices realized of the last 15 years, only on rare occasion have they included early celadons. Every time an auction is held at Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonhams or Doyles sellers and buyers wait to see how the major pieces do. All eyes watch the Imperial jades, porcelains, bronzes and scrolls often followed by stunned expressions and dropped jaws and of course broad smiles.
The overlooked area of fine Chinese celadons from the Song dynasty to Ming dynasty has frankly been a mystery to me. Their glazes are subtle and exude a quiet elegance of color, light and offer a unique type of tactile resonance to buyers who admire and are attracted to them. Those collectors during the boom in Chinese art seem relatively few and far between.
Chinese Celadon Porcelain A Different Experience
In a word, as much as any other type of porcelain celadons speak a language of their own. For many they are soothing with a thick, clear, soft glowing subtle greens, to others they display a strength of singular power and individuality. The range of color to be found in these green glazes seem, after viewing many types, to have more shades than all other colors combined.
Celadons are on occasion additionally decorated with under glaze blue, or may have a dry brown dressing over unglazed areas as seen in this example from the Freer Sackler Gallery.
More recent examples made from the mid 18th C. onwards may be enhanced with a famille rose over-glaze enamel; the subtle clarity of plain examples with modest incised patterns seem to me superior. An example we have now in inventory is an ovoid jar and is inlaid with a white paste and filled in with under glaze blue. We acquired this for inventory as it seemed quite unique and has an interesting pattern. It may have been made for wthe Japanese market. One particular form of Chinese celadon long favored by Japanese collectors for it's color and shape is the three-legged incense burner. The most desirable are often of a particularly good color, a fine soft green known as Kinuta Green. This color seems to have first evolved in the 12 th C. to 13 th C. and can be found in numerous Japanese collections.
Recent Auctions of Chinese Celadon Porcelain, Things Are Changing
Over the last few years, interest in Chinese celadon porcelain seems to be on the rise. Pieces that formerly realized relatively modest prices are moving upward. This may in part be due to incredibly high values of other objects in the flashy Imperial enamel wares, but I think more likely is being driven by increased sophistication of active collectors. Appreciating monochromes ceramics requires a level of understanding beyond that of fine brightly painted, technically complicated examples from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Monochromes are acquired an aquired taste, like a superb French Grand Cru wine, great caviar or a really fine cigar. You have to truly experience them, to appreciate and understand them, it takes time.
Increasingly, the market is witnessing an interest in early Chinese celadon porcelain each time prime examples enter the market. In time I suspect prices for the best pieces will rival those with regularity of the Imperial examples from the Qing dynasty.
More about Chinese Celadon Porcelain
Contrary to common perceptions, not all Chinese celadons are the same color, they are often not even green at all and yet they are called Celadon. Chinese glazes have so many variant shades of this color it nearly defies description.
They can be nearly black and they can be for all intent and purpose done in tones of blue and still be technically called celadons. This was most common in the colors of the pieces made during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan period (1279-1368). It was during these eras that many scholars and collectors feel had the most variations in the spectrum of color and and range of glazes. During the Song Yuan dynasties most of these wares were made in Jingdezhen and it is believed this was the starting point for their manufacture. This was truly a fascinating era of innovation, glaze and potting experimentation. The era's influence over Chinese Art has lasted for centuries.
This early period was held in such high esteem by the Chinese that during the Qianlong Emperor's (1736-1795) rule a revival took place attempting to replicate the ceramics made during this fabled time. Interestingly other items were also reproduced including Jades, paintings, and lacquers. The quality of these revival examples were and still are astounding.
Qingbai bowls were made in one variety or another in both the Southern and Northern Song (960-1279). Some are slightly whiter and others are much bluer leaning to green. The glazes on these examples and many others are very thin and to the eye free of bubbles. This is not always the case however as areas of suffused bubbles can be found where the glaze has pooled.
Other examples exist with glaze free rims, on these the glaze has been wiped clean prior to firing to facilitate stacking of the bowl in the kilns. This style of bowl features a variety of decorations predominated by varieties of flowers, ducks. boys in vines, some examples have fish. The interior decorations to these bowls are a study unto themselves. Some are made in molds leaving distinct raised relief patterns inside.
During the Song Dynasty pieces were made in a bewildering variety of forms from stem cups to exotic animals. Some were in the form of buildings and in this example is a rather rare example of a barge or boat. Later into the Yuan period larger, Qingbai examples were made including figures and statues.
Among the most popular bottle or vase forms of this era and continued to be made for centuries was the Meiping vase. Characterized by a gently upward expanding body that curves inward gently on a broad shoulder ending to form a tightly formed smallish neck and mouth. The decortion on these can vary widely from busy high relief decoration to very delicate low relief drawing. This image is a molded and carved example.
NOTE: A good book on this topic is "Qinbai Ware: Chinese Porcelain of the Song and Yuan Dynasties", By Rosemary Scott, Amy Barnes, Estelle Nikles and Catherine Teo. Edited by Stacey Pierson. It was published by the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 2002 ISBN: 0 7286 0339X