Collecting Fujian "Blanc-de-Chine"

"Popularity" of a certain field of collecting often comes with publicity. What brought modern public attention to white wares as a group, was as I see it J.P. Donelly's book "Blanc-de-Chine", through which he helped collectors to identify their pieces.

A second important factor was the fame of the Carl Kempe Collection, formerly at the Swedish Ekolsund Castle.

What is most discouraging for collectors is problems with dating and attribution. Blanc-de-Chine is a classical ware. In the old books it is described as a "white ware from Dehua in Fujian province".

Recent books does not focus very much on Blanc-de-chine and as it seems to me, a lot - not to say the most - of what we call "Kangxi period Blanc-de-chine from Fujian" is actually Qianlong or later period pieces from the Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province. Take a look at the small sacrificial bowl to the right. This is how an early 18th century, Dehua, Blanc-de-chine piece should look like. As a further significant feature we also have a molded foot rim. Compare this piece with the dead white Jingdezhen pieces, and you will see what I mean.

So, for the moment I would say it is as good a time as ever to start collecting Blanc-de-Chine since the average awareness of this ware is low.

Just avoid paying "Kangxi period Blanc-de-chine" prices for modern slip cast white ware pieces.

Jan-Erik Nilsson

Comments on multiple tones of white

I have given the subject a lot of thought and I have not examined that many certain "Dehua" wares to be really sure about what was actually made there.

I am quite certain - thought - about what was and still are possibly to make in Jingdezhen.

They have had and still have a tremendous output of all kinds of wares including of course, white undecorated pieces.

So, I am therefore inclined to believe that most of the pieces that looks like Jingdezhen ware - i.e. actually most white pieces - really are Jingdezhen ware and not Dehua (Fujian).

In looking for Dehua wares I think we must look for something that distinguish them from Jingdezhen other than the fact that they are undecorated, white and of porcelain. The Ivory tone is one of them. An interesting fact is that this Dehua ivory tone is sometimes only visibly inside the paste of the pieces and then only seen when held up against a light.

We also know that the Dehua porcelain paste seems to be somewhat different from the Jingdezhen so as to make it difficult to decorate with underglaze blue. This might of course have been depending of the cobalt and not the paste - but somehow it seems as a logical explanation for specializing on undecorated pieces.

So, to sum this up I feel like your thought that the vase more likely originated in Jingdezhen is correct. But, there is also a question of style and I have not seen the piece. Somehow I feel that the Jingdezhen pieces were more run of the mill - mass produced pieces - but that is just my feeling for this.

Thank you for bringing the subject up. Your further thoughts on this are most welcome.

Jan-Erik Nilsson

Comment on style as the main difference between Jingdezhen and Dehua wares

For further thoughs on this I publish the following insightsful comment from a friend at the Hong Kong University.

Dear Sir, Thank you for your thoughts to which I only want to add a few comments.

It is interesting to note that you feel certain there is a visibly change in the porcelain body of the Dehua wares during late Ming/Early Qing. This is - in that case - the same as what is happening in Jingdezhen wares at this time.

Regarding the Jingdezhen wares, I have felt this was due to the change of source of the Kaolin part of the porcelain clay, when they abandoned the Gaoling (Kaolin) ridge source by the end of Ming. All my personal observations seems to fit with that, but whether this is the full truth I don't know. This change of clay source for the Jingdezhen wares any way seems to coincide perfectly with the reduction of the iron content in the Jingdezhen paste and therefore also its tendency to turn a rusty red where exposed during firing.

From the Marco Polo account one might be prepared to draw the conclusion that the Dehua potters were working with one - natural - clay and not mixing it with any Kaolin clay which was the Jdz practice at about the time of the Yuan dynasty (12th century).

Regarding the "seasoning" of clay I would in this rather recognize a well known pottery technique to make a clay more plastic, but for this end, just a few years should do fine. What happens is that that porcelain clay often consist of small mica particles in the shape of very small "flakes. A few years of "seasoning" makes these particles organize themselves as the cards in a deck of cards, which makes the clay more slippery - more "plastic" - and more suitable for all kinds of potting.

I don't know what this might add up to, but since the book title you are mentioning specifically deals with Dehua blue-and-white I feel we might first have to define if they by "Dehua" are referring to Fuyao, Jianyao or specifically only to the Dehua district white wares.

Another thing that would be most interesting to investigate would be the influence from the Northern Ding wares, which must have arrived to the south of China along with the Song court in 1127. Could it be more than a coincidence that the pink/ivory tone we can see in the (early) Dehua wares is also a prominent feature of the Ding yao?

Thank you for your help and interest.

Best regards,
Jan-Erik Nilsson