Teabowls are one of my favourite shapes and millefleur is one of my favourite patterns. A teabowl set (or Gaiwan) consists of three parts, the saucer, the teabowl and the lid. Chinese millefleur comes in many different types but in the Guangxu period a particular variation came into existence and has been in production ever since, albeit with considerable changes in quality. The black ground Chinese millefleur is my favourite, although I believe that the Chinese themselves much prefer the gold ground.
The report is just an appreciative look at 10 such teabowls from my collection. The 10 teabowls span the Guangxu and Republic period and possibly the PRC is represented too (No. 10). The bowls show the range of painting quality possible on these pieces, from very fine to very slap-dash! I must say that trying to capture the painting on these pieces has been quite difficult, with the worst pieces looking better than real life and the best pieces looking worse than they actually are. I have no idea why this is so.
So, let me introduce the bowls. Almost all millefleur pieces from this period of Guangxu to the present have a pink peony as the ‘central’ motif. Although these can be variable, it is the best element to zoom into to immediately show the difference between each bowl. So you see below all 10 bowls oriented so that the pink peony is centred. A closeup photo of each bowl then follows, with a fuller description.
Millefleur teabowl No. 1: Note the detail of the peony petals and the way the enamels have been mixed with white to show the shading, thus giving a range of intermediate colourings. Note also that there are gold featherings painted over the black ground, as well as a gold rim.
Millefleur teabowl No. 2: Note the simple lines of the peony, no white enamels to give extra dimension, but more translucency. This bowl has a rare element, being the iron red dragon medallions.
Millefleur teabowl No. 3: Central detailed peony has a mix of white and pink enamels. Gold rim.
Millefleur teabowl No. 4: Simple delicate peony, graded enamels, but difficult to determine if there is white enamel as well. This bowl has the rare element of handwritten red and gold Wan Shu Wu Jiang medallions.
Millefleur teabowl No. 5: Fairly detailed peony with white and pink enamels, gold rim.
Millefleur teabowl No. 6: Quite simple peony with graded pink enamel but no white enamels. Note the bright orange-yellow flowers.
Millefleur teabowl No. 7: Simply drawn peony with pink enamel, no white and little grading, scrappily painted, especially the black ground. Note the very rare use of a multi-coloured key-fret border.
Millefleur teabowl No. 8: Full teabowl set with notched saucer and lid. Detailed peony with white enamel, note the gold featherings on the black ground, as well as a gold rim.
Millefleur teabowl No. 9: Another full teabowl set with notched saucer and lid. Detailed ‘blousy’ peony with white enamel, note the gold featherings on the black ground, as well as a gold rim.
Millefleur teabowl No. 10: Full teabowl set with saucer and lid. Detailed peony with pink/purple enamel, no white, coarsely painted.
The flowers in chinese millefleur on porcelain tend to stay within certain boundaries: peonies, lotus, blue & white striped or pink, blue & white striped daisies and chrysanthemums, yellow and white daisies or primroses are standard. Less commonly one finds orange (iron red) flowers of all descriptions, pale purple irises, bunches of grapes, carnations, lilies (usually pale yellow), and spider chrysanthemums.
Most black ground millefleur has only the flowers as decorative elements, no key frets or other borders, no inscriptions, no interior patterns. Bowls no. 2, 4 & 7 below are therefore quite rare and surprising.
Below are the images of the 10 teabowls in more detail, showing all the flowers and bases, marks and other elements:
1. This is the classic good quality millefleur, always recognisable by the gold feathering and the nicely painted pale purple iris. A handwritten 6 character red kaishu Qianlong mark helps to place this into the Republic period.
2. A teabowl with all the standard elements, watery enamels, and a series of very rare stamped iron red dragon medallions. Passably painted, with a circle mark which reads Jiangxi Hu Yi Ji Chu Pin, all placing this in the late Republic period.
4. A deftly painted teabowl, infilled with a light touch. Stamped 4 character red kaishu Qianlong mark. Medallions with Wan Shu Wu Jiang characters, handwritten in red and gold. These Wan Shu Wu Jiang variations are also often signed with a ‘Minan Gongsi’ mark, either stamped or handwritten. Probably all done by the same Minan company, but I don’t know why some are signed with Qianlong marks. Late Republic period.
5. This is one of the most beautifully painted millefleur pieces I have seen from this period (Late Guangxu/Republic). Hard to photograph, but the detail is strong, there are delicately scratched details on the petals and a series of unique flowers. Handwritten 4 character red kaishu Qianlong mark.
6. This teabowl is quite hastily painted but has a group of bright orange/yellow flowers which make it distinctive and interesting. Also distinctive is the uncommon Jiangxi Chu Pin mark. Most millefleur pattern pieces have reign marks of some sort.
7. A scrappily painted teabowl with lilies and spider chrysanthemums and a stamped 6 character red kaishu Guangxu mark. Most remarkable is the multi-coloured key fret rim border and the multi-coloured spoke basal border, the only example I have ever seen. Could be PRC but thinness of the rim suggests Republic.
8. A good quality teabowl set or gaiwan. Well painted with a good variety of beautiful flowers, detailed with gold featherings. Handwritten 6 character red kaishu Qianlong mark. The saucer has notches around its rim. Republic period.
9. A good quality teabowl set or gaiwan. Well painted with a good variety of beautiful flowers, including lilies, grapes and spider chrysanthemums; detailed with gold featherings. Stamped 6 character red kaishu Guangxu mark. The saucer has notches around its rim. Republic period.
I hope you enjoyed the show! Michaela