HERITAGE: Porcelain love

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He has written some 60 books on Chinese porcelain. Christian Jorg tells John Tiong about a rarely seen line of ceramic ware

IN his talk on Famille Verte: Extraordinary And Colourful Porcelain Of The Kangxi Period in Kuala Lumpur recently, Professor Emeritus Dr Christian Jorg surprised his audience with a screen presentation of rarely seen Chinese Famille Verte ceramics.

Famille Verte refers to a line of ceramic ware made between 1685 and 1725. It was during the reign of Chinese emperor Kangxi from 1661 to 1722 that Chinese kilns, especially those in Jingdezhen, actively explored new ideas to improve the art of pottery.

Famille Verte is admired worldwide for its detailed motifs in various shades of bright green enamels with an overglaze of blue, yellow, red, black and sometimes gold. It is now a field of study or momograph, after Jorg published his book, Famille Verte: Chinese Porcelain In Green Enamels, last year.

Jorg studied Oriental Export Porcelain at Leiden University and earned his PhD in 1979 for his thesis, Porcelain And The Dutch China Trade. He was professor at the university for the chair of East-West Interactions In Decorative Art until 2009.

He was also the keeper and head of research at Groninger Museum in the Netherlands from 1978 to 2003. In those years, he sourced some 1,500 items for the museum’s collection of Chinese and Japanese export
porcelain, some of which can only be seen there.

Jorg, who has written some 60 books on Chinese porcelain, is now an independent researcher and speaker. Here, he shares more about his passion for Chinese porcelain, in his own words.
 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

I found my first piece of porcelain, a shard of Kangxi blue and white with the figure of a woman, in my uncle’s garden. Since that chance discovery, my interest in Eastern art has never stopped, from porcelain and lacquer ware to tribal arts.

I’m most interested in the interactions between the East and the West, and how influences of the arts from the East made their way into all kinds of decorative art such as textile, furniture and the interior design of a house in the West. The Netherlands was in a central position as it imported so much in the 18th Century, so did the British. London and Amsterdam directed the fashion in the West.

Famille Verte porcelain is very well made with detailed flowers, mythical animals, butterflies or Chinese figural scenes in various shades of bright green enamels with an overglaze of blue, yellow, red, black and sometimes gold. It tells us about Chinese culture and ranks high among the best wares.

I also like Japanese porcelain ware. The Japanese, at one time, were making porcelain specially for the Dutch market. They used to “copy” Chinese images on their porcelain. The images are not an improvement but different, and they are worth studying.
In fact, the Japanese introduced colour to their porcelain before the Chinese. They added enamel colours and the Dutch loved them. I think Japanese porcelain is undervalued.

A collector should collect what he likes and not what he wants to invest in. They have to buy at auctions and research the market trends.  

For instance, they can start by buying the cheaper range of porcelain such as 16th Century Chinese blue and white. These are more rough and simple.

Such porcelain ware are traded in Southeast Asia, but not in Europe. There are many shipwrecks where such porcelain can be found. Just because the auctions and dealers don’t give them as much value as 18th

Century porcelain ware does not mean they are not worth buying. They are undervalued.

I always made sure I got some pieces for the museum. Shipwrecks such as the Wanli and Diana serve as an important source of study on Chinese porcelain because they are like an archive of the period it was made in.

Chinese porcelain ware offers many surprises. New information crops up every now and then which can affect how we look at the history of porcelain ware.

Porcelain ware is durable — it can withstand water, dust and light. It also does not lose its colour. But those from shipwrecks need special care. I suggest that collectors not remove the barnacles nor apply acid on them.

Fakes are so well made these days that even experts can’t detect the difference. So buy from a dealer you can trust. But all dealers can make mistakes, so there is no guarantee.

My favourite is tribal arts. It’s been an interest of mine since I was 12. I especially like tribal arts from Papua New Guinea, the Oceania, the Bataks of Sumatra and the Dayaks of Sarawak.

I love tribal arts because they are functional. They are well made by artists who have a passion for their work.

I also love tribal arts for their spiritual connotations. They are often the medium between the material and spiritual worlds.

In Vancouver there is a good museum for tribal arts, and in Amsterdam there’s the Tropical Museum, which is excellent.

In my years of work with Oriental art, the best I’ve seen are a big bowl and a matching dish from the Kangxi period. Painted on them are the 24 love scenes from the famous Chinese literary work Romance Of The West Chamber. They are on display at Groninger Museum.

Famille Verte painted with ducks and flowers

Christian Jorg says Famille Verte porcelain tells us about Chinese culture and ranks high among the best wares

Famille Verte painted with flowers and birds

Folklore on Famille Verte


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