Madame Sun Yat-Sen 宋慶齡, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek 宋美齡  & Madame H.H. Kung 宋藹齡 – the Soong Sisters and their porcelains.

Many years ago I came across the photograph below and was immediately intrigued. Shown were classic dragon & phoenix tablewares from the Republic Period, being used by Meiling Soong and her husband, Chiang Kai-Shek, at their home in the wartime capital Chongqing (Chungking) in 1941.

This is a photo of Madame Chiang Kai Shek (Meiling Soong  宋美齡) and her husband Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang Jieshi  蔣介石) eating dinner at their home in Chungking, 1941, using porcelain bowls, plates, spoons and teacups showing the dragon and phoenix pattern on a white ground and with a multi-coloured key fret pattern. Credit: Carl Mydens, http://www.artnet.com/artists/carl-mydans/generalissimo-chiang-kai-shek-and-madame-chiang-a-RtxeXtGdF53K5SCMGxhUGA2

So I started to search for more information, saved images etc and a broad and interesting picture emerged. This report has a more personal tone, looking at the porcelain collections, gifts and commissions of some of the most influential women in 20th century Chinese history.

The characters in this story are the three Soong sisters:

  1. Meiling Soong 宋美齡  (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek)
  2. Qingling Soong 宋慶齡 (Madame Sun Yat-Sen)
  3. Ailing Soong 宋藹齡 (Madame H.H. Kung)
The Soong sisters, left to right: Soong Ailing, Soong Meiling and Soong Qingling in Chongqing (Chunking), China, 1940
https://time.com/5710461/jung-chang-china-history-big-sister-book/Topical Press Agency—Getty Images

Whilst searching for the data, I also came across the porcelains which were commissioned by Chiang Kai-Shek (the subject of a separate report yet to be finished – Zhong Zheng wares) and his wife, Meiling, and also the gifts which the couple gave to friends and dignitaries over the years.

The history and biographical details of the people above is easy to find – if you don’t know anything about the Chiang Kai-Sheks or the Soong family I suggest that you familiarise yourself with the basics before reading further. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soong_sisters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiang_Kai-shek  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen

However, the basics of the Soong Sisters are summarised in the table below, from sources above:

The presence of these remarkable women spans the whole 20th century. In terms of porcelains, it is the years from 1920 to 1949 which are of interest here; the years that they were all mostly in China.

I will look at the youngest Soong sister first, Meiling, Madame Chiang Kai Shek, showing the porcelains which Madame Chiang Kai Shek commissioned as gifts for friends and others. Then, some images of the ‘china’ they used every day plus the ‘show’ pieces decorating her and her husband’s homes and offices.

I am sure this compilation is by no means exhaustive, as new information comes up all the time. I have gathered these images over the years and have linked to sources wherever possible. However, some of the links no longer work and the website doesn’t exist anymore.

Secondly, I will show images of porcelains used by Qingling Soong and her husband Sun Yat-Sen in the Republic period, mainly found in museums – did you know that there are at least 12 museums, memorial halls or gardens dedicated to Sun Yat-Sen around the world? The former residence of Qingling Soong is open to the public in Shanghai.

Thirdly, there is scant information on Ailing Soong but I have found one piece ordered by her husband, H.H. Kung.

The Chiang Kai Sheks also commissioned an extremely interesting and large range of porcelains in the late 1940s. These are rare and reasonably well documented, mostly made in the late 1940s and will be the subject of a separate report, ‘”Zhongzheng” (Chiang Kai Shek) and other commissioned porcelain in the 1940s’.

Meiling Soong (Madame Chang Kai-Shek)

  1. Porcelains commissioned by Meiling Soong for gifts to friends and dignitaries
  2. Porcelains in Meiling Soong’s homes, daily use and on display
  1. Porcelains commissioned by Meiling Soong for gifts to friends and dignitaries.

Meiling Soong was born in China but at the tender age of 10 went to the USA to school with her older sisters! She attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1913 to graduation in 1917and then returned to China, not visiting the USA again until 1943 (and once again in 1965). She married Chiang Kai Shek in 1927. Following Chiang Kai Shek’s death in 1975, and having lived in Taipei since 1949, she again returned to the United States until her death in 2003, aged 105 years. She met dozens of dignitaries as the First Lady of China until 1949, and she certainly kept many close schoolfriends from her days at Wellesley.

Meiling Soong, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, gave teabowl sets as presents to friends and dignitaries, all seemingly commissioned from a Jiujiang company, possibly the Hua Chang Gongsi. Some of these were given to trusted friends; we do know that she gave a teabowl to each member of her graduating class of 1917, in 1938. Other porcelains were apparently given to politicians she met when visiting the USA, seeking funding for the Anti-Japanese War which the Chinese Nationalist government was waging throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.

These porcelain tea bowl gift sets have been coming up for auction this 21st century and here are some of them:

On looking at the seven examples below, one can see that several are incomplete, missing lids or saucers/stands. All that show the base have no basemark.  All that show the lid have the mark character ‘Jiang’ in strong seal script – Chiang Kai Shek’s pinyin name is Jiang Jieshi (Chinese equivalent 蔣介石) ,  and the ‘Jiang’ supposedly refers to that. Other commemorative porcelains have the same or similar ‘Jiang’ square or circular medallion. The inscriptions are all written by the same distinctive calligrapher, here the characters shown left to right (opposite to that in the actual inscription) and their pinyin and English translation:

‘ 中華  民國  二十七年  夏  惠爾士理  同學  紀念  蔣宋美齡  贈’

Zhōnghuá   mínguó   èrshíqī nián   xià   huì ěrshìlǐ   tóngxué   jìniàn  jiǎng sòngměilíng  zèng

’27th year of the Republic of China   summer Wellesley classmate   commemorate Jiang Song Meiling gift’

The 27th year of the Republic is 1938. All of these beautiful teabowls are made in the same shape with quite a range of patterns, only two patterns repeated, so far.

Teabowl with yellow and pink chrysanthemums and leaves, missing its lid and stand; auction description – “Fine Old Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Bowl & Dish Calligraphy Republic Period” Ebay auction July 2016
This complete teabowl set has a beautifully painted rose and leaves – auction information was sparse – “Antique Chinese Porcelain Rice Bowl Lid & Underplate Calligraphy Poem & Signed”  Ebay auction January 2019
Another classic Republic period motif of nandina bamboo and narcissus with a geometric rock and a lingzhi fungus attached. The only information with this teabowl reads “rare Chinese republic tea bowl with under tray, gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek”
Same decoration as above. This complete teabowl set had the following auction listing: “Specially made as gifts for US politicians as Song Meiling came to US to seek donation for the Anti-Japanese war. Only one left made 1938. From Private collection at River Oaks area where the Bush family live” https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/22265499
This teabowl has dragon medallions and phoenix medallions, and a very narrow, almost miniature multi-coloured keyfret around the top rim (I have only seen this latter feature on Jiujiang company porcelains). It came with a selection of letters written by Madame Chiang Kai Shek, books, silver teaspoon, calling cards of Madame Chiang Kai Shek, and a porcelain teapot (shown further below), with the following description: “USA Collection of gifts from Madam Chiang Kai Shek to Mrs. John T. Clark, dated 1938. To include: A covered tea cup and saucer with the inscription “Presented to Wellesley classmates by Mayling Soong Chiang on the twenty seventh anniversary of the Chinese Republic”. A silver spoon with similar inscription, a Calling Card and a newspaper article. Also included in this lot are three books. Three addresses, messages in War and Peace and This Is Our China, Two hand signed letters signed by all by Madame Ch’iang Kai Shek and a teapot with dragon and phoenix motif on a yellow ground with a Kuang Hou inscription (Chip to spout).” https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/43937870
Documents, books etc with this lot above.
Another dragon medallion and phoenix medallion pattern, sold on ebay, missing the stand/saucer stand but showing the ‘Jiang’ mark on the lid and the same inscription and dating on the bowl.

The information that came with this cup and lid  “This item was given to Helen Prentice who was a graduate from Wellesley College in 1938. All of the seniors in that graduating class received a gift sent by Madame Chiang Kai Shek. A china tea cup with cover that comes directly from Madame Chaing Kai Shek. The graduating class drank a toast to her with the tea cup she had sent which originally had tea in it. There is a write up included in this listing and also a translation of the Chinese writing found on the side of the tea cup and the crest of the Republic of China is found on the top of the cup” https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-wellesley-college-madame-505118795

These porcelains are all dated 1938. In 1937 Jingdezhen had been captured by the Japanese Army and most of the porcelain production had been re-directed to wartime products. Although Chiang Kai Shek spent most of the following 10 years operating out of Chongqing (further west in China), it may have been that for some small amounts of time Madame Chiang Kai Shek stayed at her villa in Lushan and ordered the porcelains from Jiuiiang just 10km down the mountain (According to the literature, in July 1946, Chiang Kai-shek spent the summer in Lushan – http://njsbwgzg.com/en/Antique/antishow/id/125) . We do not know when the teasets were actually given, but one of the descriptions above indicate that they were sent rather than personally delivered, presumably from China.

Before leaving this particular group of gifts, it is worth showing a couple of bowls I have found with very similar calligraphy, two year dates 1934 and 1938, but not associated with Madame Chiang Kai Shek. The decoration, however, is of the same ilk (unfortunately no base mark to possibly determine the maker):

Below is an image of the yellow ground teapot which came with the documents and the 5th bowl above:

Below is another porcelain gifted by Madame Chiang Kai Shek to Franklin D Roosevelt:

Octagonal footed bowl:

This bowl, in pristine condition and of probable early C20th dating, is a gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek to Eleanor Roosevelt. It was exhibited at the FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) Library in 2018, see next image:
https://twitter.com/fdrlibrary/status/1075770848189902848?lang=ca@FDRLibrary

Porcelains made to commemorate

A series of important porcelains in the form of vases, bowls, dinner sets and teasets were commissioned by Chiang Kai Shek and his wife, Meiling. Most of this porcelain was designed and made after WWII, was made at Jingdezhen and was to commemorate victory over the Japanese in WWII, and therefore sent to US politicians and heads of state in the United States and Europe. Porcelains were also commissioned as wedding gifts for Queen Elizabeth II and other events. These porcelains will be the subject of a SEPARATE REPORT – “‘Zhongzheng’ and other commissioned Chinese porcelains of Chiang Kai-Shek”.

Porcelains in Meiling Soong’s homes, daily use and on display.

So, of course, this image above began my quest. Over the years I have found many more. The Chiang Kai Sheks had many homes in mainland China during the Republic period. When they moved to Taiwan, they had mountain villas as well as the Presidential Palace.

Meiling Soong, Madam Chiang Kai Shek owned a mountain villa at Lushan, up in the hills south of Jiujiang, a prolific porcelain producing centre during the Republic period. The villa is now known as Meilu Villa, and is open to the public.

Here is a range of porcelains found in these homes, with a dating if possible.

This series of photos above was taken in June 1946, showing the dining room cupboard at the Chiang Kai Shek’s home, filled with a huge range of teabowls from the late C19th and first half C20th.  (Photos by George Silk)  https://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/cups-in-dining-room-cupboard-at-gen-chiang-kai-sheks-house-news-photo/50871505
Here the Chiang Kai Sheks at some formal dinner – note the millefleur plate in front of Chiang  – it has the ‘Jiang’ central red medallion on it, so perhaps a State Banquet? (See more on these millefleur porcelains in the commissioned porcelain report, yet to be published)
https://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2015/04
Showing the couple with 4 monochrome vases in the background, no date, but post WWII  http://news.xinhuanet.com/ziliao/2013-10/24/c_125591584.htm
1927 – Note the coral red or carmine ground tea bowls with cartouche.
This photo above, taken in 1927 in the garden of Meiling Soong’s sister Ailing Kung’s home in Shanghai. The caption reads “General Chiang Kai-Shek And Fiance(Original Caption) 10/28/1927-General Chiang Kai-Shek, until recently Generalissimo of the Nationalist Armies in China and Miss Mei-Ling Soong, to whom Chiang is shortly to be married, are shown above. Miss Soong is a member of a famous Chinese family and a sister of Mrs. Sun Yat Sen, wife of the late leader of the Nationalist Revelution. The couple are planning a honeymoon trip to the U.S where General Chiang hopes to spend a year in Washington studying American Governmental institutions and methods, after which he will return to China to re-enter politics, Miss Soong is a graduate of Wesleyan College, Macon, GA., and of Wellesley.” https://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/general-chiang-kai-shek-until-recently-generalissimo-of-the-news-photo/514697598
Coffee cups with a millefleur decoration for an informal meeting, Chiang Kai Shek and Meiling. No date, but looks c.1940s. Http://bbs.artron.net/thread-2979288-1-435.html
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Chungking (Chongqing), 1941, holding a millefleur rice bowl. The headquarters of the Nationalist Government were in Chungking at this time, although the mansion that they lived in, after surviving WWII was knocked down in 2012 by property developers.
https://pictaramium.com/media/1453562351273889470 
_3226015725  oldshanghaipaul ChinaRhyming(@oldshanghaipaul)

Not authenticated, but the following porcelains are reputed to have come from the estate of Madame Chiang Kai Shek in a 1999 auction of her contents of ‘Hillcrest’, the Long Island home she lived in until moving to New York at that time. The auction was held by Braswell Galleries, contained around 800 lots and attracted hundreds of Chinese Americans who wanted to buy a piece of history!  “Aside from the chandeliers and a handful of paintings, many of the items resembled odds and ends that might be found in the average grandmother’s attic. “Most of it’s just residual household property,” Braswell said.

There were steamer trunks, framed photographs, lamps, vases, jars, bowls, old hi-fi speakers, television sets and a set of eight 1950s-style cocktail glasses, with an ice bucket.” Gary Braswell, auctioneer

Hillcrest was actually owned by the children of Madame Chiang’s sister Ailing Kung, and these porcelains may in fact have belonged to them.

This set of porcelain dishes above with a Jiujiang Zhen Dong company mark was auctioned again a few years ago with the following note: re: provenance….bowls were purchased in 2000 by my mother at Braswell Galleries in Stamford Connecticut. They handled Madame Chiang Kai Shek’s Long Island estate. I have contacted Braswell’s a number of times to get certification of provenance. Braswell’s did not have computerized records, only paper records from 2000. The photos showing the auction lot numbers should be helpful in gaining provenance given the right collector i’m sure Braswell’s could get their hands on the right materials. ***The saucer with the Braswell sticker is for reference only, not included in this lot.

These ‘Birthday’ Pattern pieces above are from a Kaminski auction in 2007, also purported to be from the estate of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Qingling Soong and Sun Yat-Sen

Over the years that I have been archiving information for this report, many websites pertaining to Qingling Soong have come and gone. One would imagine that more data would be available today than previously, but I am finding that not to be the case. Several of the links no longer work, but I had saved the images and hope to show you some interesting porcelains that they used at home and which can be seen in the former residences of Qingling Soong, now museums.

Mr and Mrs Sun Yat-Sen do not appear to have commissioned any commemorative porcelain themselves, probably explained by Sun Yat-Sen’s early death in 1925. Despite the fact that Qingling’s parents were opposed to the marriage, her mother gave her a porcelain coffee or tea set as part of a dowry –

“There are still a few pieces of porcelain in the collection of Soong Ching Ling. This is when her mother Ni Guizhen gave her to her when she got married. The dowry-a set of colorful coffee sets. The interesting thing about this set of coffee sets is that the plates are from the Qianlong period; the pots and milk cans are from the Guangxu period; the sugar bowls and cups are made by Jiujiang Huachang Porcelain Factory. Although From three different years, the whole set of porcelain is still one piece.”

http://www.china.org.cn/china/2015-10/26/content_36890014_2.htm

It is interesting to note that some of the pieces were made by the Hua Chang company of Jiujiang, the same company which probably made Meiling’s teabowl gifts in 1938 as shown above. The Qianlong marks are no doubt apocryphal; these sets with a mix of marks is quite common during the Republic period.

Most of the porcelains associated with Qingling which I have been able to discover are now held in her former residence in Shanghai, open to the public and the responsible body is ‘The Soong Ching Ling Cemetery Administration Office, Honorary Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Collection Level : General Cultural Relics’. The following examples mainly come from this and associated sources http://sswgw.org.cn/wwdc/sqlww/4348.htm

This black ground millefleur bowl, sauce dish and spoon may have had a Xuantong basemark
This celadon i-ching cong vase was displayed in the living room on the first floor of her apartment on Huaihai Middle Road, Shanghai. http://sswgw.org.cn/wwdc/sqlww/4564.htm

Beautiful famille rose drum seat with dragon & phoenix in the cartouche.  http://sswgw.org.cn/wwdc/sqlww/4547.htm

“In the middle and late period of the Republic of China, prominent military and political figures such as Soong Ching Ling, Wang Jingwei, Chiang Kai-shek, and Chen Lifu had also customized ceramics in their personal capacity. For example, Soong Ching Ling and Chen Lifu had customized purple clay pottery, Wang Jingwei customized “Shuang Zhao Lou” porcelain, Chiang Kai-shek Customized “Jiang” porcelain.” http://www.artyi.net/blylc/fav_7_27829.html  (Link no longer works)

http://sswgw.org.cn/wwdc/xgww/5069.htm

This cabinet full of Republic period porcelain can be seen at Qingling Soong’s former home in Shanghai. The cabinet was closed when I visited in 2016 and very hard to see what is inside. However, I was able to find this image online earlier (the link no longer works unfortunately). Nonetheless you can see the dragon and phoenix and landscape serving bowls with lids, other rice bowls and spoons, some English tureens and even some PROC lidded blue cups.

http://www.sszx.org.cn/wwyjView.aspx?id=711 (link no longer works)
Also from her former home in Shanghai these bowl sets with sauce dish and spoons

And from the Sun Yat Sen Museum, also in Shanghai, the following set of Guangxu marked yellow ground bowls:

Another image of her Shanghai home interior shows that many items of porcelain were displayed:

Although not directly related to Qingling Soong, it was interesting to see these porcelains below in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in Singapore. They were commissioned for the first wife of Sun Yat Sen by one of their sons in 1936.

A similar bowl below shows the base mark, ‘Jian Hua Tang Zhi’, and a press clipping about the bowl which was included in the auction:

Ailing Soong and H.H. Kung

Ailing Soong and her husband H.H.Kung held a substantial amount of power within the family, but were very private. Although one can find out much about their financial and political dealings, there is relatively scant knowledge of the family life and their relationship to the arts. It is only by searching auction results with their name attached that I have found any information.

Neither Qingling nor Meiling Soong had children, but Ailing had four, 3 of them lived most of their lives in the USA. The eldest daughter, Kung Ling-i (孔令儀), and son, Kung Ling-kan (孔令侃), David Kung, bought the Long Island property ‘Hillcrest’ in which Meiling lived until the last few years of her life after which she moved to New York.

The only porcelain references I have been able to find is the following teacup:

“It was purportedly a gift from a descendant of Confucius, husband of Soong Ai Ling, Dr H H Kung (1880-1967), sold out of Kentucky, USA, in 2021.” If authentic, it would have been made very close to his death in 1967.

And, in 2015, Christies sold a Yongzheng bowl from the Kung estate

https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5927595

Provenance: The K’ung Hsiang-Hsi (Kong Xiangxi, 1881-1967) Collection, New York, and thence by descent within the family.

A pair of vases commissioned by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1947 will be shown in my next report – this pair was provenanced from the Kung family in New York and sold at Christies in 2011.

I am always aware that more information about these remarkable women and their collections will come to light. In the meantime I hope you have some new insight into their homes and collections.

Best wishes, Michaela Russell

Many thanks to Simon Ng and Mike Harty for help with the translations!

Biographies:

  • The Soong Sisters – 2014 by Emily Hahn  ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 149764870X   ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1497648708  Open Road Media
  • Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China –2019 by Jung Chang   ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1910702781   ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1910702789  JONATHAN CAPE & BH
  • The Soong Dynasty – 1986  by Sterling Seagrave  ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780060913182   ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0060913182    Harper Perennial
  • The Last Empress – Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Birth of Modern China  2010 by Hannah Pakula   ISBN: 9780753828021  Simon and Schuster

A selection of other websites viewed (some links no longer work, use at your own risk):

Villas:

http://english.culture.gov.taipei/ct.asp?xItem=15531726&ctNode=30785&mp=119002

http://www.bestchinanews.com/History/4093.html

http://whiteconfucius.com/

http://www.topchinatravel.com/community/blog/see-the-mt-lushan-mt-sanqingshan-in-the-mist-ii.htm

http://www.rmhb.com.cn/chpic/htdocs/english/200701/6-1.htm

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/features/article/china-restores-chiang-kai-sheks-house-and-image

http://www.shanghaiguide.org/Chiang-Kai-shek-Mansion-2853.html

http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-02/20/content_23564190.htm

https://socalarchhistory.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/william-krisel-and-george-alexanders.html

http://english.china.com/zh_cn/culture_history/treasured_past/11020716/20040720/11791737.html

http://www.hengfush.com/en/xuhui/xh_history2_2.htm

http://global-mariner.com/index92GreenHouse.html

http://www.absolutechinatours.com/Nanjing-attractions/Chiang-Kai-shek-Villa-at-Tangshan-Hot-Spring-3923.html

http://www.absolutechinatours.com/Nanchang-attractions/Lushan-Mountain-A-World-Heritage-in-China-3418.html

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2013-08/30/content_16931440_10.htm

http://www.mushero.com/trips/asia/moganshan/summer08/mountain2.html

http://lark-trip.com/home-page/wwii-war-time-capital-memorial-chongqing-1-day-tour/

Qingling Soong:

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/763974.shtml

Flower Sprigs and insects! A late Qing Chinese porcelain pattern

Is it a grasshopper, or a cricket? Maybe a locust; anyway some sort of bug – all sitting above a flower sprig on Chinese porcelains of the late Qing and early 20th century (and a few a bit later).

Here is the classic example, but there are many variations:

Above you see the classic bowl in this pattern:

  • White ground
  • Ribbed relief to the porcelain
  • Gently scalloped top rim, often gilded
  • Flower sprigs of a multitude of species – peony, prunus, lotus, hibiscus, chrysanthemum, and more
  • All manner of insects or bugs, mainly crickets I now believe, but all drawn in an individual style, some fat, some skinny….
  • Often a double peach medallion is featured within the interior of the bowl
  • Tongzhi red marks predominate, 4 or 6 characters, always zhuanshu or seal marks, stamped or handwritten, the mark outline is often chamfered

There are also celadon and coral red ground versions.

There is a whole subset which have gold trellis dividers, in square or branching styles.

There are many mark types or no marks at all.

They come in a variety of shapes which you will see below.

But they ALL have flower sprigs and insects – look at all the beautiful interpretations! So many individual painter’s versions in this selection below.

PRECURSOR to the pattern:

I have not seen this pattern in many museums as they are possibly considered too prosaic (and actually very little Late Qing and C20th minyao porcelain is to be found in any museum). However, in the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore I found one pair of bowls from the Jiaqing period which may be a precursor to this pattern. It is very finely painted on fine porcelain but does not have any insects visible, just the flower sprigs.

MARKS and DATING:

In all the examples you see below there are many reign marks, predominantly Tongzhi and Daoguang.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE REIGN MARKS DO NOT DENOTE THE PERIOD IN WHICH THE PORCELAINS WERE MADE.

With the Daoguang marked pieces, most are handwritten, but in a style which is known to have been done in the late C19th or thereabouts. The characters are quite roughly written, angular, and often looking as they are ‘squished’ into the square mark form, especially the ‘guang’ character.

The Tongzhi marks are almost all zhuanshu or seal marks, handwritten and stamped, and with many different ‘calligraphic’ styles, probably indicating that many separate workshops were making this pattern – of course, the range of different decorative styles of the insects and flowers points to this as well!

Stamped Qianlong seal marks are seen, as are a couple of hall and commendation marks and private company marks. Handwritten red kaishu Guangxu and Qianlong marks are found on C20th/Republic period examples, and there is an underglaze blue kaishu Guangxu mark, probably of the period. There is one example of a peach & bat red mark, these are usually late C19th, and one Xianfeng mark, possibly of the period or a bit later. A considerable number of these porcelains have no mark at all.

Although the Tongzhi mark predominates, most of these porcelains were made in the Guangxu period or later. The accepted wisdom is that any stamped Tongzhi mark is certainly later than the period (1862-1874) and that only a few handwritten ones are likely to be period. This is basically a conclusion based on logistics because the Jingdezhen kilns were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion and were not in full operation until the middle to late 1860s. The extraordinary amount of Tongzhi marked porcelain just could not have been made in these remaining 8 or so years of the reign, in a recovering and depleted Jingdezhen ceramics industry. In addition, many Tongzhi marked porcelains have datings on inscriptions outside of the reign. It is thus more correct and convenient to describe such porcelains as Late Qing. Of course the very rare kaishu Tongzhi marked porcelains, if authentic, could be mark & period.

There are several, later examples in this report, some even into the 1960s, with similar decoration, but shapes, enamels and marks which place them after 1949.

POPULARITY IN STRAITS/NYONYAWARE/PERANAKAN Collections:

Whilst these porcelains are found in the west in great numbers, they are also found in many Southeast Asian collections, perhaps in even larger numbers. Large dinner services with the white ground decoration were used for certain big family gatherings such as birthday and weddings in the Nanyang. At the end of the report you can see images of the pieces I have seen in museums in Malaysia, including some celadon and coral ground examples.

THE IMAGES:

I will show the white ground porcelains first, with the gold trellis variation at the end of the section. Then the celadon ground examples, followed by the coral ground porcelains.

WHITE GROUND

Below are a series of typical bowls, all with white ground, ribbed relief sides, gilt scalloped upper rims, and a range of insects and flower sprigs. The marks are noted, but include Tongzhi, Daoguang, Qianlong, Qing, all Seal marks and a Tang or hall mark (in black) in kaishu script.

Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamfered border
Qianlong 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Daoguang 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border, apocryphal
Daoguang 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border
Zhang ? Tang Zhi’ black kaishu mark, no border
Guangxu 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, single chamfered border
’Da Qing Nian Zhi’ 4 character red seal mark, stamped, no border
Daoguang 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, single border
Tongzhi 4 and 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, double border

And their counterparts in plates, again, all with that distinctive ribbed relief to the porcelain.

Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, single chamferred border
Daoguang 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamfered border
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, single border
6 character mark, stamped, double border, not a reign mark
Chenghua 4 character red kaishu mark, handwritten, no border, apocryphal. No crickets, just butterflies – this occurs on a few items I have found
Qianlong 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border – another example with butterflies instead of crickets, apocryphal

Next, a miscellaneous grouping without the ribbed relief. Note the large range of shapes which were made.

No mark
Guangxu 6 character underglaze blue kaishu mark, handwritten
’CHINA’ mark, handwritten in underglaze blue
No mark
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border
No mark 
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border on a turquoise ground base
Daoguang 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, single chamfered border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border
Xianfeng 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border
Jiaqing 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border, apochryphal as are most of the pre Guangxu marks
Daoguang 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border, apocryphal
‘Ji Xiang Ru Yi’  , ‘May your Good Fortune be as you wish’ – a Tongzhi commendation. This shape and pattern typically is Guangxu period
No mark
Red ‘Peach & Bat’ mark 
Qianlong 6 character red kaishu mark, apocryphal, handwritten with a stamped ‘CHINA’ mark
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border
No mark  
Guangxu 6 character red kaishu mark, with red stamped ‘CHINA’ mark (with letters transposed!) reserved on a turquoise ground base  
No mark  
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
No mark 
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border, turquoise ground base
Tongzhi 6 character red kaishu mark, handwritten, double chamferred border, considered Mark & Period by Sotheby’s 2016 

Later examples

Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border on a turquoise base. The thin enamels, clunky painting and mark style etc indicate a later probably second half C20th dating 
’Jiangxi Jingdezhen Chu Pin’ red stamped circle mark, probably c. 1960s 

And there are spoons….

Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apochryphal
’MADE IN CHINA’ stamped red mark
Daoguang 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border, apochryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apochryphal

Below are porcelains which have, in addition to the flower sprigs and insects, a gold enamel trellis in square or branching form. The branching form is mimicking a lotus leaf. They are a significant subset of this pattern.

‘Jin Jian Tang Zhi’ – Hall of Golden Precepts (Republic) red seal mark, stamped, double border
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border, turquoise base 
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border, turquoise base
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
Qianlong 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apochryphal
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
3 x Tongzhi 6 character red seal marks, handwritten and stamped, double border, one on a turquoise ground base, and an undecipherable 4 character red seal mark 
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Daoguang 6 character mark, Christies
Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border

CELADON GROUND

Overwhelmingly the gold trellis version of this pattern occurs on the celadon ground examples. Many are leaf or lobate shaped and seem to have been produced in large numbers. The only exceptions (no gold dividers) can be seen in the 2 pieces immediately below; note the different and distinctive flared rectangular shape.

Qianlong 6 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border

Multiple examples of square and divided gold trellis examples…..

Tongzhi 6 character red seal mark, handwritten, double chamferred border
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, no border, apocryphal
Sculpted lotus stem base
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
No mark  
No mark  
No mark  
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, handwritten, double border
Sculpted lotus stem base 
Tongzhi 4 character red seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
No mark
You(?) He ? Zhi, stamped, double border
No marks, and undecipherable 
Tongzhi 6 character seal mark, handwritten, double chamfered border 

CORAL GROUND

This coral ground colourway is far more uncommon and it is fair to say that the Straits/Nyonyaware/Peranakan relationship is at its strongest here. This becomes apparent when one sees the museum/gallery examples in the next section. It should be noted that black birds also feature quite a bit on the Straits examples, not so on the other porcelains found.

The first eight examples below show some older pieces (meaning pre WWII) and the coral ground is more subdued that the vibrant coral red which came afterwards. The enamels are just like the older white and celadon ground ones above. However, during the PROC there must have been a desire to produce these again, which you will see further below.

No mark 
No mark 
No mark 
Daoguang 6 character seal mark, handwritten, double chamfered border
No mark 
Daoguang 4 character seal mark, handwritten, double border
Tongzhi 6 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 4 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal

Below you will see an image taken from Prof. Ho Wing Meng’s book on Straits Chinese Porcelain showing a collection of coral ground wares, some of which have the requisite insects aboard (the 2 kamchengs on the left do not, and are not examples of this pattern).

More recent examples (no absolute dating, but likely post 1949) of the coral ground, vibrant, but with a completely different set of enamels, and shapes.

Qianlong 6 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
Tongzhi 6 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
No mark 
Qianlong 6 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal

MUSEUM AND GALLERY EXAMPLES

In Penang, Malaysia, there is an old mansion which houses an extraordinary collection of Straits/Nyonyaware/Peranakan porcelains, furniture, jewellery, embroideries and beadwork. Many items which are not strictly considered Straits, but were often to be found in Straits homes are also on display.

Here is a series of photos from the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, taken in 2015, 2017 and 2019 which show many of items discussed above.  You will see a few more interesting shapes in the pattern.

WHITE GROUND

CELADON GROUND

CORAL GROUND

These are much rarer, and some do not seem to have any insects – this may simply be because I didn’t get the right angle…. However, there is definitely a grouping of coral ground Straits porcelain which has the flower sprigs without insects, but that’s another story….

This lidded serving pot did not seem to have any attached insects, but one photo eventually showed an advantageous angle!

This lidded serving pot did not seem to have any attached insects, but one photo below eventually showed an advantageous angle!
Qianlong 6 character seal mark, stamped, double border, apocryphal
This large kamcheng does not appear to have any insects, just black birds, a Straits pattern in itself I believe

This gorgeous spotty cricket says farewell

Best wishes, Michaela Russell

Bibliography:

  • Straits Chinese Porcelain, A Collector’s Guide  1983

ISBN 981-284-521-X  by Ho Wing Meng    Times Books International

Chinese Nesting Bowl Sets from the Late Qing & Republic Period 嵌套碗套装瓷器

This report will show a range of Nesting Bowl Sets from the 19th and 20th centuries. They are not common and complete sets are quite rare, most are missing a few bowls. A full set comprises 10 bowls. Dating is broad, with the earliest appearance in early C19th, most popular in the late Qing, and made into the Republic and even more recently. Dating indications will be summarized at the end of the report.

The image quality is variable I’m afraid. The watersilkdragon database has entries for these examples from 2006, when picture resolutions were far lower. Dimensions are given in the captions, but on average the largest bowl is about 11cmD.

Some sets have basemarks, many also with none; some have a basemark just on the largest bowl. Most examples have no interior decoration although some have a flower sprig or peach; a few have the same decoration as the exterior (like figural scenes) on just the interior of the very smallest bowl, quite quaint! These elements can be used to date the sets.

All the patterns seen on these nesting bowls are also seen on other shaped porcelain from the same period of manufacture, meaning there are no patterns unique to this shape.

These sets fetch quite high prices (some are eye-watering, see below!), even if damaged or with missing bowls. Therefore, there have been copies made recently – so far they are quite easy to spot.

I am not sure at this stage what these nesting bowl sets were used for – they are variably described as for sweetmeats, condiments etc but I would like to know more.

By far the most common decoration is figural scenes, so often seen around the turn of the C19th/C20th. Flowers, birds, and insects plus landscapes are also common.

I will show these examples in decorative groups, in the order that they were input into the database, although Christies and Sotheby’s examples are often at the end. Whilst I have tried to eliminate recent copies, there are a few I am unsure about and will mention that in the captions.

In this report I am showing, for the first time, auction price results. Let me know if you find this interesting or not.

FIGURAL SCENES

Typical figural scene in a garden, peach interior on all except the smallest, which shows a scholar at a desk. Stamped Tongzhi seal mark. Full set of 10, sold 2008, $1800, auction dating Tongzhi M&P, Provenance: The Gillooly & Marshall Collections, San Francisco, CA, 10.8cmD to 3.2cmD
Figures in a landscape, mainly young boys; only the smallest bowl has interior decoration, a figure. All bowls have a handwritten red Qianlong seal mark in a single square. Full set of 10, sold 2009, $1105, auction dated to C19th, 11cmD to 3.5cmD
Figural scenes, no marks, no interior decoration. Partial set of 6, sold 2012, $790, auction dated Tongzhi, 8.3cmD to 4cmD
Figural scenes with inscription, basemark ‘Jiangxi Yi Cheng Gongsi’, from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Museum of Art. Set of nine (you can see where the 10th belonged!)
Figural scenes, no marks, no interior decoration. Set of nine (again, one can see where the 10th belonged!). Sold 2013, $4050, auction dated 1st half C19th, 10.2cmD to 3.8cmD
Figural scenes, no marks. Set of seven only, sold 2013, $3438, no auction dating, 9.25cmD to 5cmD
Figural scenes, smallest has interior with a seated woman, rest undecorated; no marks. Full set of 10, sold 2013, $4000, no auction dating, 10.5cmD to 3.5cmD
Figural scenes, inscription with artist or studio name, no interior decoration or basemarks. Full set of 10, sold 2014, $5,999, no auction dating, 10.8cmD to 3.7cmD
Figural scenes, interior decoration only on smallest bowl, stamped 4 character red Tongzhi seal mark only on largest bowl. Full set of 10, but it looks distinctly like one is missing in the photo above! Sold 2019, $2025, Tongzhi auction dating, 11.5cmD to 3.3cmD
Figural scenes, no interior decoration, no marks. Partial set of 7, sold 2020, GBP 1800, auction dated C19th, no dimensions
’Wu Shuang Pu’ figural scenes and inscription, only smallest bowl has interior decoration, no marks. Partial set of 5, sold 2020, GBP 983, auction dated C19th, 7cmD
Figural scenes, smallest has a similar interior decoration, no marks, but faces look to be earlyC20th rather than C19th maybe. Partial set of 5, sold 2020, GBP 526, auction dated Daoguang mid C19th, largest 5.4cmD
Figural scenes, only the smallest has figure, plus calligraphy; only the largest bowl has a handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark. Partial set of 9, sold 2018, 3200Euro, auction dated Daoguang marked, 10.5cmD to 4cmD
Figural scenes ‘en grisaille’ with iron red facial features, no interior decoration and a 6 character handwritten red Daoguang seal mark on only the largest bowl. Partial set of 7, sold 2018, 2600Euro, auction dated Daoguang M&P, 6.5cmD to 11cmD
Figural scenes, the smallest having similar decoration to the interior; handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark to at least the largest bowl, double red border with chamfered corners;  Silk presentation box from post 1990s. Christies, sold 2021, $12,500, auction dated Daoguang M&P, Provenance: J. J. Lally & Co., New York (according to label), largest bowl 10.7cmD
Figural scenes ‘en grisaille’ with iron red facial features, no interior decoration, no mention of marks or interior decoration. Partial set of 7, sold 2019, $1900, auction dated Early C20th, 6cmD to 11.1cmD
Figural scenes, none with interior decoration, all have a handwritten 6 character red Qianlong seal mark. Partial set of 5, sold 2019, 750Euro, auction C19th, no dimensions given
Figural scenes, smallest bowl with interior figure, only the largest bowl with a stamped 4 character red Tongzhi seal mark in a double square. Full set of 10, sold 2011, $1900, auction dating C19th Tongzhi M&P, largest bowl 11.2cmD
Figural scenes ‘en grisaille’ plus sepia wash, no interior decoration, no marks. Partial set of 7, sold 2011, no pricing, auction dated late C19th, 2.5cmD to 6cmD
Figural scenes, similar on interior of smallest bowl, and a 6 character handwritten red Daoguang seal mark, just on the largest bowl. Full set of 10, sold 2010, $4400, no dating, provenance: Estate of the late Virginia Hix Brame, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, no dimensions
Figural scenes, peach on interior of each bowl, no marks. Partial set of 8, sold 2012, 343 GBP (damage), auction dating c.1880, 4.5cmD to 9.5cmD
Wu Shuang Pu figural scenes and inscriptions, smallest bowl has an interior figure, no information on marks. Full set of ten, sold 2004, $2250, auction dated early C19th, 3.2cmD to 11.4cmD
Figural scenes, smallest bowl has an interior figure, no marks. Partial set of 8, sold 2011, $2850, auction dated early C19th, 5cmD to 11.4cmD
Figural scenes, smallest bowl has an interior figure, and on just the largest bowl a handwritten 6 character red Tongzhi seal mark with double red border and chamfered corners. Full set of 10, sold 2011, $3550, auction dating C19th, largest bowl 10.8cmD
Figural scenes, smallest bowl has an interior figure, no marks. Full set of 10, sold 2011, Christies, 10,000GBP, auction dating early C19th, largest bowl 11.2cmD
Figural scenes, boys playing in a garden, smallest bowl has an interior figure; stamped or handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark on all bowls. Note the lack of a base rim lip, which is more common mid C20th. Full set of 10, sold 2012, $190.50, no dating, 5.0cmD to 11.4cmD. Looks like last quarter of C20th from the enamels, or even C21st
Figural scenes in a garden, missing smallest bowl, no marks. Partial set of 6, sold 2021, $2750, auction dated C19th, Provenance: Asian works of art from a New York scholar’s collection, largest bowl 10.1cmD
Figural scenes, smallest bowl has an interior flower, at least one bowl has a stamped red Tao Zheng Chang Zhi mark in a double border. Full set of 10, 2021, lot passed, Estimate$2,500-$4,500, auction dated Republic, 6.4cmD to 10.8cmD
Figural scenes, each bowl interior has a peach, handwritten 2 character red Tongzhi seal mark, double border, chamfered. Partial set of 6, sold 2021, $1600, auction dated C19th, largest bowl 10cmD
Figural scenes, smallest bowl has interior figure and inscription, largest bowl only has a handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark. Full set of 10, sold 2021, CAD $1700, auction dated Late Qing Dynasty, 4.3cmD to 12 cmD
Figural scenes in a garden, interior of two have peaches, no marks. Partial set of 3, sold 2020, auction dating C18th Qianlong (which they are not IMO, look Republic period or after), 6cmD to 7cmD
Figural scenes with bright enamels, one interior with peaches, no marks. Partial set of 9, sold 2020, $2000 (damage), auction dated C19th, largest bowl 11.1cmD
Full set of 10 (but smallest bowl is cuplike), some interiors with figures, some with peaches (mismatch?), largest bowl has a handwritten 6 character red Tongzhi seal mark in a double square. Sold 2020, $2000, auction dated C19th, largest bowl 11.1cmD
Wu Shuang Pu figural scenes and inscriptions, smallest bowl has a figure, no marks. Partial set of 9, sold 2015, $3500, no dating, no dimensions
Figural scenes, with similar on the interior of the smallest bowl, no mention of marks. Full set of 10, sold 2011, Christies, GBP 10,000, auction dating early C19th, largest bowl 11.2cmD
Erotic figural scenes in the cartouche and interiors, on a sgraffito lime green ground, no mention of marks. Partial set of 9, sold 2011, Christies, $60,000, auction dated Qianlong, but C19th IMO, 5.4cmD to 10.7cmD
Detailed figural scenes on exterior except the smallest bowl, which has figures only on the interior, stamped 6 character red Tongzhi seal mark in a double square. Full set of 10, sold 2010, Christies, $52,500, auction dated Tongzhi M&P, largest bowl 10.9cmD, Provenance: The Helen D. Ling Collection
Figural scenes, no image of the Guangxu mark. Partial set of 9, Sotheby’s, GBP 960, auction dated Guangxu M&P, largest bowl 11cmD
Detailed figural scenes in a rocky landscape, except on the smallest bowl which has figures on the interior, no mark information. Full set of 10, sold 2013, Sotheby’s, GBP 5000, auction dated Daoguang, largest bowl 10.7cmD, Provenance: Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 29th April 1997, lot 685.

FLOWERS, BIRDS, INSECTS

Peaches and foliage, peach motif on only the smallest bowl, handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark on at least the largest bowl, but later, Republic at earliest. Note the lack of a base rim lip, which is more common after mid C20th.  Partial set of 9, sold 2006, $610, no auction dating, 5cmD to 11.4cmD
Flower sprigs on a lime green sgraffito/graviata ground, turquoise ground interiors, no marks. Partial set of six, 2007, Gotheborg Discussion Board, no dating, considered c.1900, 5.7cmD to 7.6cmD
Flower prigs and grasshopper or cricket, no interior images, largest bowl at least has a handwritten 6 character red Tongzhi seal mark in a double square, chamfered corners. Partial set of 6, sold 2008, $123.50, auction dated Tongzhi M&P, largest bowl 10.1cmD
Flower sprigs in the ‘Zhang Zhidong Bao Bing’ pattern (see this report – click here) similar flowers on interior of all bowls, 2 and 4 character stamped Guangxu seal marks, and probably of the period. Partial set of 8, sold 2020, $213.50 (damage), auction dating 1900-1930, largest 11.4cmD
Detailed painting of flowers and bird, each one different and each with an inscription (may read ‘Ziming’ referring to the famous porcelain artist Yu Ziming 1843-1911), interiors also with inscriptions, one cup has a 4 character handwritten red Guangxu kaishu mark, another has an illegible seal mark. Partial set of 8, sold 2009, $2500, auction dated ‘c.1830 Guangxu period’!!!(Guangxu period began in 1875!), 6.6 cmD to 11.8cmD
Thinly enamelled peonies, rock and bird, at least the smallest bowl with interior peony flower, each bowl marked with a handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark, but midC20th at earliest IMO. Note the lack of a base rim lip, which is more common mid C20th. Full set of 10, sold 2011, $950, auction dating C20th (but could even be C21st IMO!), largest bowl 12cmD
Each bowl painted with bird and different flowers and foliage, bird & bamboo on interior of smallest bowl, no marks. Partial set of 6, sold 2021, $425, no dating, 4.4cmD to 7.9cmD
Orchids amongst rocks with inscription, no interior images or mention, handwritten red ‘Cheng En Tang Zhi’ mark (there is the chance that the date Ren Chen refers to 1892). Full set of 10, sold 2015, Sotheby’s, HKD 50,000 (c.$6500), dated Ren Chen, 1832, 3.6cmD to 11cmD

LANDSCAPES (some with animals)

Iron red landscape, each different, no interior decoration, just some grit on one, handwritten red ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ (Jiangxi Porcelain Company) marks on each bowl, sales sticker attached to largest bowl. Full set of 10, purchased 2007, private collection, dating to Republic period, 3.5cmD to 10.7cmD
Deer and monkeys in trees and rocks, no interior decoration, old Christies sticker, no marks. Sold 2008, $2160, auction dating C19th, Provenance: Charlotte Hortsmann & Gerald Godfrey Ltd, largest bowl 10.7cmD
Township and landscape with inscriptions, smallest bowl has similar interior decoration, no marks, known pattern and authentic, early-mid C19th IMO. Partial set of 8, sold 2010, $1705, no dating, purchase docket from 1978, China Arts & Crafts (HK) Ltd, Hong Kong for HKD1200, largest bowl 10.1cmD
’En Grisaille’ landscapes, each different, figural scenes with iron red outlined faces on one bowl, only the smallest bowl has decoration, only the largest bowl has a handwritten 6 character red Daoguang seal mark, but later in the C19th IMO. Full set of 10, sold 2012, $1580, auction dating Daoguang C19th, 4.8cmD to 11.1cmD
Detailed landscapes, no interior decoration, at least one bowl with an overglaze blue stamped ‘Jiangxi Guang Ya Gongsi’ mark, indicating a 1930s/1940s dating. Full set of 10, 2006, artron forum, no pricing, no dating, no dimensions
Carmine ground sgraffito/graviata each with three round cartouche decorated with 三羊开泰  ‘san yang kai tai’ – 3 sheep or goats, a rebus to celebrate the arrival of Spring, , no interior decoration,  handwritten 4 character red Daoguang kaishu marks on each, indicating an early Republic dating IMO. Partial set of 9, 2015, artron forum, no pricing, no dating, no dimensions
Township and farming scenes in a landscape in bright enamels, all interiors and bases with turquoise enamel, and each with a handwritten 4 character red Qianlong kaishu mark in a single red square, all indicating a late C19th/early C20th dating. Full set of 10, sold 2017, $1100, auction dating early Qing C18th (but later IMO), 3.8cmD to 11.1cmD

DRAGONS AND/OR PHOENIX

Yellow ground with lotus scroll with iron red and gilt dragon medallions, carmine keyfret borders on a pink band, each interior with an iron red phoenix medallion, handwritten 6 character red Jiaqing seal mark on each bowl, but probably early C20th IMO. Partial set of 9, sold 2009, $1025 (reserve not met), auction dating early C19th, 4.2cmD to 10.8cmD
This is a different shape completely! Square bowls with sloping straight sides, each with iron red nad gilt dragons chasing the flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and above stylised wave and rock, handwritten 4 character red Guangxu kaishu marks on each base, of the period or slightly later. Set of 5, sold 2014, no final pricing, auction dating Tongzhi (which is impossible as the mark is Guangxu), 3.4cmD to 9cmD
Kuifeng (archaic) phoenixes of many colours amongst floral scrolls, no interior decoration, handwritten 6 character red Qianlong kaishu marks in 2 rows (instead of the more usual 2 columns) on every bowl, all indicating an early-mid C20th dating IMO. This set is remarkable in being presented in a bespoke silk covering for each bowl, all in a silk box, this too from the Republic or slightly earlier. Full set of 10, sold 2016, $4500, auction dating mid-C19th, largest bowl 11.4cmD

OTHER

In iron red and green enamels, the beribboned musical gong (one of the 8 Precious Things) above the vase of treasure (one of the 8 Buddhist Emblems) amongst floral scrolls, with circular reserves holding Chinese characters in gold, outlined in red, interior decoration only on the smallest bowl, no basemarks. Partial set of 7, 2014, sold GBP 210, auction dating C19th, largest bowl 11cmD
Yellow ground with Bao Xiang Hua and scrolls with a ruyi upper border, and a ‘spoke’ basal border, scattered sanduo fruits on all interiors, handwritten 4 character red Qianlong kaishu mark on each bowl, old Christies label on base. Full set of 10, sold 2018, $1825, auction dating early C20th, no diameter dimensions
Mixed patterns but standardised (this same combination s seen on condiments and normal bowl sets and was popular during the late C19th). Iron red ground and gold flowers with a scroll shaped cartouche containing a landscape; sgraffito/graviata lime green ground with flower sprigs; pink ground with carmine arabesque; white ground with red ideograms; blue sgraffito/graviata grund with flowerballs; yellow sgraffito/graviata ground with flower sprigs; rich brown ground with gold bamboos; faux marble ground with inscriptions; pale blue ground with darker blue arabesques; we will never know what the missing and smallest bowl held, but I would suggest it is a landscape on a white ground (from other examples), no basemarks. Partial set of 9, sold 2021, $5,500, dating C19th, no diameter dimensions, Valin Galleries label on bottom, Provenance: From a private New York City collection.


Having individually described each of these sets above, I can now see a couple of interesting but basic dating and other pointers. The constraint is that many bowls are missing, so that it is difficult to be unequivocal about this.

Broadly, and as a first impression, nesting bowl sets:

  • With no marks except the largest bowl, tend to be from the late Qing Dynasty
  • With marks on all bowls (reign marks and private company marks), tend to be Republic period

Base rim configuration – the lack of a base rim lip on all the bowls seems more common on post mid C20th bowls.

The most usual decoration on these nesting bowl sets is that of figural scenes typical of the mid-late Qing. Some of these figures show decorative changes which indicate a slightly later date into the early Republic period. And there have been recent and increasing copies of these figural scenes on many Chinese porcelains, so caveat emptor.

An interesting subject and shape, and they display beautifully!

All the best, Michaela, Sydney, Australia

Dragons and Chrysanthemums – a Late Qing export pattern (龙和菊花)

This pattern is delightful. I have been adding examples to the watersilkdragon database for over 20 years and now feel confident to produce a comprehensive report.

The pattern is quite straightforward – black to grey and iron red to brown dragons all with richly gilded scales play amongst chrysanthemums and foliage, all ‘en grisaille’ (that is, in shades of dark grey, even black, to white).

My quintessential discovery was way back in 2005 at the British Museum where three brushpots were on display:

They show the range of dragon colours and the full chrysanthemums and buds. They have yellow ground borders with grisaille scrolls. They are unmarked (although you can just the museum identification marks on their bases). The description says ‘Porcelain with decoration in enamels Dragons amongst flowers About 1880-1890’ The acquisition date is 1893.

DESCRIPTION

COLOUR: In all the examples I have seen the predominant ground colour is turquoise. Other ground colours are yellow, salmon, shades of blue, green, and a ruby red. 50% are turquoise, 45% are yellow and the other colours make up the rest. Some examples have borders like the ones above, but there are a few other border variations which you will see on the examples below.

MARKS: Most of the pieces, especially the vases, have no mark, and this, for me, indicates most strongly that they are export pieces. The quite heavy potting and bases also add to this observation – many of the vases look identical in form and weight to similar famille rose, rose medallion and similar export pieces from the Late Qing. Some of the plates and platters have a rose medallion border. Many of the bowls do have marks – Other marks: stamped 4 or 6 character Guangxu red seal; handwritten 6 character kaishu Guangxu; apochryphal Jiaqing red seal; apocryphal handwritten Xianfeng kaishu; apocryphal handwritten Qianlong seal;  apocryphal underglaze blue 4 character Kangxi kaishu; and a couple more as indicated below.

PATTERN: a brownish or greyish or black playful dragon or both/all with a somewhat crazy facial expression is the quintessential feature of this pattern. They always have beautifully gilded scales. Chrysanthemum flowers, foliage and buds, all ‘en grisaille’ are interspersed. On many there are also mallow flowers, also ‘en grisaille’. Some dragons are iron red and the dragon’s tongue is often red!

SHAPES: Plates and chargers, bowls, punch bowls, vases, drum seats, spittoons, footed bowls, lidded jars, lanterns, scalloped dishes, teapots, brushpots, platters, tulip vases, moonflasks, dishes, mugs, coffee cup & saucer, miniature teabowls, fish bowls, beakers, and more.

BORDER TYPES: No border or floral scroll (black scrolls) on yellow, turquoise, blue, green or pink ground, floral scroll with flowers in cartouche, green & aubergine diaper, key fret, rose medallion, rose canton, single colour key fret. On turquoise ground pieces, the border is often yellow ground, and on yellow ground pieces the border is often turquoise.

ENAMELS: The combination of thick opaque ground enamels and the ‘en grisaille’ flowers, in addition to the rich but selectively placed gilding is quite arresting. There really is no other type of Chinese porcelain like this to my knowledge, such a striking combination. The white enamels of the flowers is often thick and even crackled, and it not a pure white (new imitations often are), and often worn, exposing a slightly darker shade of ‘white’.

DATING: Most of the examples below are, like the V&A museum examples, dated to around 1880s and 1890s. Several may have been made at the beginning of the C20th, but it is difficult to tell when the fashion for these items dimmed. Certainly they have become popular again in the last few years, as the section on recent copies will show!

NOT DAYAZHAI: The mix of ‘en grisaille’ elements and turquoise or yellow ground has a strong resemblance to a couple of the Dayazhai patterns. But no Dayazhai pattern ever has a dragon, nor any gilding. In addition, the potting of these two different patterns is completely different. Dayazhai porcelains, with the exception of narcissus or bulb pots, are all finely potted and have a range of completely different shapes. The main resource for Dayazhai examples is “Gugong Museum: GUANYANG YUCI: GUGONG BOWUYUAN CANG QINGDAI ZHI CI GUANYANG YU YUYAO CIQI. (Official Designs for Imperial Porcelains: Qing Dynasty Official Designs for the Manufacture of Porcelain and Imperial Ceramics in the Collection of the Gugong Museum)” – a quick look through the images there would dispel any doubts – and I will show a couple at the end of the report. Basically, if the piece has dragons, gilding and no dayazhai marks it is part of this Dragon & Chrysanthemum export pattern. If it has dragons, gilding PLUS dayazhai marks it is probably a recent copy.

OTHER DECORATIONS: There is also a subset of this pattern, where the shapes are similar, the flowers are ‘en grisaille’, but there are no dragons. Turquoise or yellow ground, but NO dayazhai marks. I will also show a few examples of this below.

At the end of the report I will show some recent copies, most of which are quite easy to pick, thankfully, at this stage.

These examples are shown in order of colour: turquoise; yellow, salmon pink; blue; ruby red; green. Within each grouping I will divide the pieces by shape: vases; punch bowls; chargers; plates/platters; bowls etc. You will get a very good idea of the pattern just by scrolling through these porcelains, checking the subsets, and keeping in mind the plethora of new examples (aka recent copies).

TURQUOISE GROUND VASES, MOONFLASKS, BRUSHPOTS ETC

You will note the huge range of turquoise hues, some real, some no doubt due to camera and monitor settings. Despite this, and the many other variations, the vigour of the dragons, their crazy faces, are all apparent. All of the vases except one (the brushpot) are unmarked.

These vases have a bit extra!
Later example?

TURQUOISE GROUND PLATES, PLATTERS AND CHARGERS

This plate doesn’t look authentic at first look, but the recumbent base rim, grit and other features place it into Late Qing times nonetheless. Some of these examples which I gathered many years ago have very poor resolution, so it can be a bit tricky.

TURQUOISE GROUND BOWLS

Later, probably Republic, example
Later example?
This little teabowl, only 6cmD, is made of eggshell thin porcelain and is an oddity. In great contrast to the generally rather large and thickly potted other examples, I have only seen one other like this!

TURQUOISE GROUND TEAPOTS, JARS, CUPS, MUGS, DRUMSEATS, FISHBOWL etc

‘Xie Zhu Zhu Ren’ = Master of the Xie Bamboo (Daoguang and Republic according to Davison marks book) – the latter.
Keyfret border and shape put this into the Republic period I think
Kangxi mark in underlaze blue on this fish bowl, perhaps early Republic
These garden drum seats were considered to be Guangxu period by Sotheby’s, but they look to be later from the scroll layout, even second half C20th.

YELLOW GROUND VASES, BRUSHPOTS ETC

Later example?

YELLOW GROUND PLATES, PLATTERS & CHARGERS

Canton Rose borders on several of these yellow ground plates
Some of these examples look as if they have been put through the dishwasher, such is the poor condition of the enamels!

YELLOW GROUND BOWLS

Later example?
Christies – considered Jiaqing M&P, but I believe Late Qing at earliest. Note the keyfret border.
This looks more recent to me, mainly because of that turquoise enamel pile up next to the mark

YELLOW GROUND TEAPOTS, DRUMSEATS, SPITOON ETC

Even a spittoon!

SALMON PINK GROUND EXAMPLES

GREEN GROUND EXAMPLES

Sotheby’s, dated C19th

BLUE GROUND EXAMPLES

I am actually not 100% convinced about a Late Qing dating for either of these blue ground examples.

This almost looks like a Chenghua seal mark? The dragon and his scales, the crackled base, not sure??
With this example the borders and the base are unusual.

RUBY RED GROUND EXAMPLES

This vase was sold by Christies in one of their ‘Interors’ sales. They gave no dating and described an ‘apochryphal Guangxu mark’. I believe it to be turn of the C20th/C21st

SUBSET PATTERNS: Below you will see some examples of this pattern of ‘en grisaille’ chrysanthemum and other flowers and foliage on similar items to those above, but there are NO dragons, and the forms are thickly potted in the main, showing their export credentials. So one can see how these are then easily mistaken for dayazhai wares, even though they have NO dayazhai marks and do not have all the other attributes of the very strict dayazhai decorations (see this report for a brief outline on the main authentic Dayazhai patterns – https://watersilkdragon.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/dayazhai-%E5%A4%A7%E9%9B%85%E9%BD%8B-porcelains-a-brief-outline/ .)

Rare example with butterflies instead of dragons

SUBSET PATTERN 2: This is another variation, which may have been later than these Late Qing examples, perhaps even within the last few decades – really I am not sure as I haven’t had a chance to closely inspect them. All have greenish black keyfret borders on a turquoise or yellow ground and 3 marks: apochryphal Daoguang 6 character seal; ‘Xing You Heng Tang’ = Hall of Consistent Conduct – mark of the Fifth Prince, Ding Zaiquan (and considered Jiaqing and Daoguang by Davison) but Republic?; ‘Xie Zhu Zhu Ren’ = Master of the Xie Bamboo (Daoguang and Republic according to Davison) but Republic?

RECENT EXAMPLES (last 25 years or so)

The copies of Chinese porcelains seem to come in waves, with often quite amateur new expressions of an older pattern and then subsequent refinement and even over-gilding of the ‘lily’.

All the examples below are from China, USA or UK based sellers whose inventory is huge and full of copies.

Firstly a couple of older copies (2000-2015)

Layout of dragons all wrong, too much black overstippling, no red tongue etc

Note the plain opaque white flowers

Dragon shape and colouring, and the gilding, all off, Shendetang Zhi mark.

In the last couple of years, but not before, there has been the addition of Dayazhai marks on some of these examples.

All enamels are wrong in colour and application; gilding wrong, addition of Dayazhai marks, which are very badly done; pattern shouldn’t be on exterior of the plate; nor should a ‘Yong Qing Chang Chun’ base mark (should only be on Dayazhai pieces).

And a blue version too! Very blue…..

This lidded jar makes me smile – no dragon but a gilded mythical beast, and an overglaze blue Yongzheng mark!

The turquoise is quite good here but the layout, gilding, addition of Dayazhai marks (SO red!)…..

Finally, this fish bowl is beautifully made, but it is a recent example (as acknowledged by the owner) – that pure white enamel is the giveaway…

ACTUAL AUTHENTICATED DAYAZHAI EXAMPLES

I hope to have shown that this pattern is not one to confuse with the Dayazhai pattern, but just to bring the point home here is a selection of those two Dayazhai patterns – Spring and Autumn.

From the Gugong Museum in the Forbidden City, one of the Spring patterns which has grisaille peony flowers and insects (moths), plus the imperial ‘cartoon’ from which the pattern would have been painted. It needs ALL these elements to be authentic, as indicated on the ‘cartoon’.

Secondly the Autumn pattern, with chrysanthemum and hibiscus flowers, and a flying blackbird. This pattern, I am sure, is the one which is confused with the Dragon & Chrysanthemum pattern under discussion, mainly because the flowers and colouring are so similar. Again, ALL these elements are required to be authentic, the marks, the blackbird etc.

These pieces were ordered by the Emperor Tongzhi, the artists had to follow the cartoons above meticulously. Every piece had to look the same, only a very select number of shapes were made, and none of them included export vases!

I love both these patterns, all these patterns, and I hope you do too,

Best wishes, Michaela Russell, Sydney, Australia

Many thanks to Mr Ch’ng Huck Theng, Penang, for the images of the green ground footed dish.

Bibliography:

•            Gugong Museum: GUANYANG YUCI: GUGONG BOWUYUAN CANG QINGDAI ZHI CI GUANYANG YU YUYAO CIQI. (Official Designs for Imperial Porcelains: Qing Dynasty Official Designs for the Manufacture of Porcelain and Imperial Ceramics in the Collection of the Gugong Museum). Beijing, 2007  ISBN 978-7-80047-638-9. The Forbidden City Publishing House, 335 pp.

•            Marks on Chinese Ceramics 2021 ISBN 978-0-9564518-2-8 by Gerald Davison

Further reading on Dayazhai porcelains:

  • Dayazhai Ware: Porcelain of the Empress Dowager  1992

By Ronald W. Longsdorf    Orientations March 1992 pp 45-56

  • The Great Fortune, Chinese & Japanese Porcelain of the 19th and 20th centuries & their forerunners, from the Weishaupt Collection    2002

ISBN 3-00-010306-6     Ed. George Weishaupt

=D= “Factory” (艺术瓷厂) Chinese People’s Republic of China (PROC) Porcelains and their correlates

In the period 1955 to the 1970s a series of interesting porcelains were made in Jingdezhen bearing this STYLE of basemark

HANDWRITTEN MARK   
STAMPED MARK

They read “Zhong Guo Jingdezhen Zhi  =D=” and have a distinctive bracket (called a straw hat by the chinese reserachers) at the top. Originally these marks were handwritten and placed on special porcelains. Into the 1960s and 1970s all examples with this style of mark were stamped and were factory made daily use wares. At the time of writing this report I have recorded the following letters, all in red except for the rare =K=, which is always in overglaze blue:

  • =C=
  • =D=
  • =G=
  • =H=
  • =I=
  • =J=
  • =K= only in overglaze blue
  • =N=
  • =O=
  • =Q=
  • =R=
  • =V=
  • =W=
  • =Y=
  • =ZI= (could read =2乙 or even Z1)

There are also basemarks with =numbers= but only 2 numbers so far, and they appear to be exclusively late 1970s….

  • =23=
  • =42=

Now, according to the records (outlined in this article https://www.sohu.com/a/315485012_99943302), several other letters were used as well, all corresponding to particular Jingdezhen state-run factories, as shown below:

 “In October 1964, when each porcelain factory opened the “Jingdezhen, China” base section, the mark codes for the base section of the top 10 state-owned porcelain factories in Jingdezhen were as follows:

  • =A= Red Star Porcelain Factory 红星瓷厂
  • =B= Universe Porcelain Factory 宇宙瓷厂
  • =C= Weimin Porcelain Factory 为民瓷厂
  • =D= Art Porcelain Factory 艺术瓷厂
  • =E= Jianguo Porcelain Factory 建国瓷厂
  • =F= People Porcelain Factory 人民瓷厂
  • =G= Hongqi Porcelain Factory 红旗瓷厂
  • =H= Guangming Porcelain Factory 光明瓷厂
  • =I= Dongfeng Porcelain Factory 东风瓷厂
  • =J= Jingxing Porcelain Factory 景兴瓷厂
  • =K= Xinhua Porcelain Factory 新华瓷厂 was separated from Xinping Porcelain Factory, and its code name was K.
  • =L= Hongguang Porcelain Factory 红光瓷厂
  • =M= Sculpture Porcelain Factory 雕塑瓷厂
  • =P= Shuguang Porcelain Factory 曙光瓷厂

The 14 porcelain factories mentioned above were regarded as the “Top Ten Porcelain Factory” in Jingdezhen at that time……In addition,

  • =N= Xinguang Porcelain Factory 新光瓷厂 was the city’s ceramic painting factory at that time
  • =O= Ceramic Processing department 陶瓷加工

There are also those that use X as the mark code, but it is not clear why the unit uses it.”

 From the same source as above – “In January 1976, abandoned the printed lantern style, printed straw hat style and “China Jingdezhen” seal script square style.” That is, this 1976 date appears to be the latest date for these lettered and top-bracketed marks.

So we have a fairly good dating of these stamped marks – from around 1964 to 1976.

I cannot at this stage explain the discrepancies between the two sets of letters. My records have no examples of the A,B,E,F, nor the L,M or P letters. But I do have examples of several letters which are not mentioned, and for which I can find no information on – these are the Q, R, V, W, Y, and ZI letters! The examples will be shown below.

Many but not all of the handwritten =D= marks are seemingly made before 1966 – i.e. they are Jianguo porcelains (1949-1966) rather than Cultural Revolution pieces: http://www.360doc.com/content/18/0811/22/32854081_777548629.shtml

In this report I will show examples of the HANDWRITTEN =D= marks followed by the STAMPED =D= marks and then examples of all the other stamped letter marks.

HANDWRITTEN =D= porcelain examples

At this stage I am not sure which ‘factory’ or manufacturer produced these handwritten =D= examples and it could have been more than one.

Handwritten marks are found on very different porcelains to the stamped ones. Usually they are beautifully painted vases and brushpots, sometimes dated, and sometimes signed by the artist. They correlate well with the typical decorations found on the Ceramic Institute and Art School pieces of the late 1950s to mid 1970s. They are rare, usually found only in books and museums. Only the =D= marks are handwritten, all the others are stamped. All the examples from the ‘Innovations & Creations’ book are from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Museum and Art Museum or the Chinese University of Hong Kong collections.

This brushpot, from the book ‘Innovations & Creations’ is dated Bing Shen, 1956 and signed by the artist, Wang Yijun (1904-1989). The mark is handwritten. Beautifully painted in the style of the Republic period Literati artists with birds, flowers and rocks.

This vase is also from the book Innovations & Creations, dated 1960-1965 and carries a seal mark ‘Xue Ji’. Handwritten mark, 20cmH.

Another vase from the Innovation & creations’ book, same handwritten mark and dated mid 1960s-mid 1970s, 24.5cmH. The symmetrical sun and sunflower design, representing Mao Zedong and his followers is typical for the Cultural Revolution period.

This vase, from the same book above, is also dated to the Cultural Revolution period 1966-1976. A hawker is selling the ‘Selected Works of Mao Zedong’. Handwritten mark, 45.9cmH.

This vase is from the book ‘Century Retrospect, Zeng’s Collection of Jingdezhen Porcelain during 20th Century’, and shows another classic Cultural Revolution scene of children sharing food, and the written words of Mao Zedong. Handwritten mark, 35.5cmH.

This bowl was sold by Sotheby’s Paris in 2013 and shows a range of beautifully painted peonies with a rich iron red and gilt border. Handwritten mark, 23.4cmD. Strangely, it was labelled Hongxian mark & period, which it is not.

Part of a Dutch private collection this vase was acquired in the 1970s. It is dated in the inscription to 1968. Note the different calligraphic style of the handwritten mark, but considered to be part of this grouping nonetheless. 31.5cmH.

This small vase, 12cmH, is from a San Diego estate, showing a bird and blossoms. Not yet authenticated.

This bowl with another handwritten mark, is considered pre-1966 in the article – ‘Jingdezhen Jianguo Porcelain Factory’ https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%99%AF%E5%BE%B7%E9%95%87%E5%BB%BA%E5%9B%BD%E7%93%B7%E5%8E%82

From the same source as above, but showing definite Cultural Revolution decoration on the teapot. Handwritten mark.

STAMPED =D= factory porcelain examples

=D= Art Porcelain Factory 艺术瓷厂

The stamped =D= porcelains are for the most part entirely different from their handwritten counterparts. The great majority are daily use wares: bowls, jars, dishes and plates. However, they are consistently well made, and there are a few examples with designs unique to much factory porcelain. I believe most of them date to Cultural Revolution period of the PROC – mid 1960s to mid 1970s – and  would be the most easily available porcelain examples for this interesting time period.

It would appear that the stamped =D= factory porcelains, as opposed to the handwritten ones, were first made around 1964 https://bbs.artron.net/thread-4785033-1-4.html

However, another source suggests that the =D= ‘Art Porcelain Factory’ was established in 1958. Not sure when the photo of it below was taken: https://www.sohu.com/a/282063908_210889

Photos of all of these factories mentioned below can be found at the link above.

You will see below many familiar Bao Xiang Hua, Wan Shou Wu Jiang decorations. Also many carmine, and other colour, graviata grounds with landscape cartouche, plus black ground millefleur, and  few select landscapes with black filigree borders. However, there are also a few ‘surprise’ patterns which I find with these marks only. I will label these ones with a star *. They are shown in the order they were put into the watersilkdragon database. There are overwhelmingly more =D= factory examples relative to the other letters and numbers – this may be an artefact of my interest!