Qing ceramics

Ewer. Flowers. Made of moulded red and green enamelled ceramic, porcelain. Famille verte.

Project leader: Jessica Harrison-Hall

Department: Asia

Project start: 2003 (excluding 2004-6)
End date: 2010

Other British Museum staff: Loretta Hogan, Jonathan Williams, Kevin Lovelock

Other departments: Conservation and Scientific Research, Photography and Imaging

Description:

The British Museum has one of the world’s finest and most comprehensive collections of Qing dynasty (1644-1911) ceramics outside the Chinese speaking world. The publication of the Museum’s forthcoming book on the subject makes the complete collection available through digital photography and new scholarship.

One thousand pieces will be illustrated and interpreted regardless of quality or rarity. Thus they range in quality from a plate made in 1713 to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722), the longest reigning Qing emperor, to an early nineteenth century jar still filled with the crystallised fruit it transported from China to Southeast Asia. The first Qing ceramics were collected for the Museum by its founder Sir Hans Sloane who bequeathed his collection to the Nation in 1753 and the Museum continues purchasing in this area today.

Chapter 1 discusses the dynasty’s foundation andShunzhi period (1644-61) porcelains. Chapter 2 examines the reunification of China achieved by the longest ruling emperor, Kangxi (1662-1722) and the porcelains produced in his reign. Chapter 3 intends to provide an insight into the painterly perfection of Yongzheng (1722-35). Chapter 4 focuses on the flamboyance and experimentation of Qianlong (1735-96) porcelains.

Chapter 5 sees the ceramics as a reflection of stagnation in China Jiaqing (1796-1820) porcelains. Chapter 6 discusses Daoguang (1820-50) porcelains. Chapter 7 provides an insight into Xianfeng (1850-61) and Tongzhi (1861-75) wares. Chapter 8 Guangxu and Xuantong (1875-1912). Chapter 9 moves away from Jingdezhen to examine architectural ceramics. Chapter 10 Shiwan, Yixing and other stonewares.

The volume is concluded with reference end matter: chronologies, maps and an essay on fakes, forgeries and copies of Qing ceramics both ancient and modern. Post-dynastic Hongxi and Republican period (1912-1949) porcelains are examined in a further appendix. A table of 50 selected marks for reference will be supplied and a selection of dated Qing tombs and shipwrecks discussed. Donors of Qing ceramics to the British Museum are examined through short biographies also involving original research.  A comprehensive bibliography, Chinese and Japanese names and terms and an index will also be included.

Tray (lotus leaf-shaped). Made of enamelled ceramic, biscuit porcelain. Famille verte.

Objectives:

The British Museum’s Qing ceramics have never before been published in their entirety. Although there are works on discrete parts of the collection, many written by past British Museum staff, or books on Qing ceramics illustrated with British Museum star pieces, there is no single source which can be consulted for a comprehensive picture of production of the collection.

This catalogue will contain five introductory sections and ten chapters dividing the collection chronologically and by kiln site. The introductory essays discuss questions of style and authenticity, iconography and social context as well as issues of patronage and distribution. The book is the second in a series and aims to provide a set of new perspectives on the history of Qing Dynasty ceramics. The first in the series was published in 2001, and was devoted to Ming ceramics.

Publications:

Early works on the Museum’s Qing ceramics form sections in larger works on Chinese and Oriental Ceramics. The first such book was compiled by the pioneer academic, collector and Keeper Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-97), Catalogue of a Collection of Oriental Pottery and Porcelain Lent for Exhibition and Described by Augustus W. Franks, FRS., F.S.A. ( London, 1876). This un-illustrated catalogue published his personal collection of some 1,500 pieces, then on loan to the Bethnal Green Museum but later donated to the British Museum including many Qing pieces. Robert Lockhart Hobson (1873-1941) became responsible for the Far Eastern ceramics at the British Museum in 1921. His contribution to Qing ceramics scholarship was of great importance and included his entries in the catalogue of the George Eumorfopoulos collection published in 1927. R. Soame Jenyns (1904-76) an East Asian ceramics specialist, wrote Later Chinese Porcelain: The Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912) (London, 1954), a work illustrating mainly British Museum pieces. Recently, up to date information and several illustrations of Qing wares were included in Shelagh Vainker’s Chinese Pottery and Porcelain-From Prehistory to the Present, (London, 1991).


Images (from top):

  • Ewer. Flowers. Made of moulded red and green enamelled ceramic, porcelain. Famille verte.
  • Tray (lotus leaf-shaped). Made of enamelled ceramic, biscuit porcelain. Famille verte.