A blue and white baluster vase Chenghua six-character mark, Kangxi
Lot 1
A blue and white baluster vase
Chenghua six-character mark, Kangxi
Sold for £ 23,750 (US$ 31,557) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

10 Nov 2011, 10:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
A blue and white baluster vase Chenghua six-character mark, Kangxi
A blue and white baluster vase
Chenghua six-character mark, Kangxi
The gently-rounded sides brightly painted with a continuous scene of an official in a chariot drawn by a buffalo and accompanied by soldiers bearing standards greeting a farmer in a landscape.
26cm (10¼in) high


  • Provenance: Sotheby's London, 16 May 1995, lot 15
    The Inder Rieden Collection

    Taste in Transition

    It is a well-established convention, when scholars discuss the various taste for collecting Chinese ceramics in Europe, that they make a clear distinction between the taste for buying 'new' Export porcelain in the 17th-early 19th century; and the collecting taste fuelled by new (Western) scholarship which emerged from about 1900. This is too broad brush a distinction, because it overlooks one of the most fascinating cultural developments in England during the 19th century. This involved the reassessment of Chinese porcelain existing in Europe, from being essentially a utilitarian and decorative commodity bought initially as 'new' porcelain in the 17th and 18th centuries, into being identified as antique artifacts which initially represented a new English cultural aesthetic, and latterly squarely as examples of Chinese connoisseurship.

    The Inder Rieden Collection represents this interesting shift in taste very clearly. In its early stages, the Collection belies its origin in traditional Dutch taste for attractive, fine-quality Kangxi blue and white porcelain, of the type imported by the VOC, but morphed two centuries later by master brand-manipulators like Sir Joseph Duveen into examples of classic Chinese ceramic production. Latterly, the collector's taste moved from a response to the decorative qualities of this fine Export porcelain, into a closer appreciation of the designs, quality of the painting and aesthetic interest of the 'pots'; and hence, almost inevitable, into an enhanced taste for the enamelled 'mark and period' porcelain of Qing Dynasty China, made for domestic Court and upper-class-secular use. This evolved into the ultimate shift towards monochrome ceramics, where no enamelled or underglaze-painted decoration is permitted to distract from the simplicity of a single-coloured vessel of elegant form. The Collection has been well selected over three decades to contain examples of all these four types of traditional Chinese ceramics.

    The small but choice selection of late 17th and early 18th century blue and white ware represent all that is best about this fine period of porcelain production in Jingdezhen. The kilns were recovering from serious destruction in the 1650s, and revived demand from both domestic consumers and a leisurely-expanding demand from outside China became increasingly focussed during the Kangxi period on the South-Eastern coastal port of Canton, the walled provincial capital at the head of the Pearl River, 13 miles upstream from the deep water moorings for East India merchant ships in Whampoa Anchorage. The shapes of the vessels in the Inder Rieden Collection reveal that some were made for Chinese usage, some for export.

    The cylindrical brush pot is a fine classic example of this simple but relatively new innovation; a vessel which could provide intellectual stimulation and meditational value to a scholar, using it to hold his calligraphy and painting brushes (with, of course, the bristles upright to dry). The brush pot is the clearest Kangxi period example of the most important ceramic development during the 'High Transitional' and Shunzhi periods (circa 1630-1662): the creation of very simple rounded porcelain vessels, whose contours (uncluttered by handles or sharp angles) were largely determined by a potter's wish to reproduce a carefully-structured flat woodblock print onto the rounded surface of a tubular vase or a cylindrical straight-sided brush holder. Nothing in the Chinese ceramics tradition really anticipated this remarkable development in the very last years of the Ming Dynasty, when porcelain vessels became essentially a handscroll which would be 'unrolled' (by rotating) to follow the progress of a narrative print, capturing by very careful reproduction the balance and often elaborate detail of the original woodblock. The Inder Rieden Collection contains a number of display vases which well display this pleasure in copying, often all around the body, a continuous scene which illustrated a well-known moment from a classical romance or an episode of Chinese mythology.

    Such vases clearly did come to Europe in the decades around AD1700; many have survived in the West, sometimes even in the original collections for which they were purchased from the wholesale auctions or elegant retail shops in London's Jermyn Street, Amsterdam's Spiegelstraat, or the other colourful 'Chinatrade' shops in a Europe increasingly drawn to Asia's 'luxury products', notably the principal money-spinner, roasted and green teas. But there was a very remarkable change in mid 19th century England, in the way these fine display pieces were appreciated by buyers. For many decades they had been conventional accessories in our English country house drawing rooms; rooms which in the absence of a disaster or a new fashionable owner, could retain their principal furniture and decorations largely untouched for a century or more. In mid 19th century London especially, a group of artists began to rebel against the utilitarian, functional characteristics of 'Industrial art'. Unashamedly seeking for higher aesthetic qualities in the arts around them, and which they sought to create, they generated an intellectually-driven 'Aesthetic Movement' which had, as one of its unlikely side effects, the creation of an almost obsessive appreciation of 'Nankin blue and white', as Kangxi wares were often entitled. Not surprisingly, some of London's most cutting-edge artists formed collections; Whistler's dressed his studio beside Battersea Bridge, and often appeared in his paintings; Oscar Wilde's interest makes an appearance in 'The Portrait of Dorian Gray'; Dante Gabriel Rossetti formed a fine enough collection to be purchased, and handsomely resold, by the Dutch-Jewish dealer Joel Duveen from his shop initially in Hull, and later more grandly in Bond Street. The Duveen family, Frank Partridge and Murray Marks were to transform and old-fashioned Dutch taste for 'blue and white' into avant-garde fashion, parodied by many commentators, but remorselessly endorsed by a generation of late Victorian successful industrialists who were persuaded that the Holy Grail of Chinese porcelain was a Kangxi blue and white 'ginger' (sic) jar painted with prunus blossom on a cracked-ice ground; the iconic 'hawthorn' vase.

    The recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London puts this rechanneled interest in Chinese blue and white into a wider context. It came at the same time as International Trade Exhibitions were bringing fine modern artifacts from foreign nations to massive European and American audiences; and it marked a more scholarly interest in traditional Chinese and Japanese domestic-taste wares, with exceptional scholars like Fenellosa and Fry opening up vast vistas of unknown Asian cultures. Such an increasing awareness was bound to spur Western collectors into buying more widely. But it took the implosion of Imperial Court life in Beijing to permit much greater access in the West to acquiring such non-export ceramics. This duly happened in the early years of the 20th century, as great London galleries like Sparks and Bluetts, received larger and larger shipments directly from China, some of them consigned by buying staff now resident full time in China. The Imperial ceramics now which represent such a desirable and valuable core of the Inder Rieden Collection reflect these evolving European tastes towards the finest Chinese porcelains, which were such a remarkable feature of the art market in London and Paris almost a century ago.
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