Posts tagged “PORCELAIN

How a visit to your local potter proves that art history is bunk

[I seem unable to stop interrupting myself]

At least the grand-sweep art history in which one style emerges out of another and artists are forever breaking, surpassing, and overthrowing.  The potter’s work was what is usually termed “interesting” — “inept” would be impolite; perhaps “naif” would be a good word; though certainly “ugly” would still apply.  In short, it was like the rest of the “searching”, “exploring”, “overthrowing” and “challenging””work” out there.  The sort of work whose technical ineptitude is explained away by gushing reviewers as due to it being so very new — “in early stages of development”.

Curious to know why she makes what she makes, I engaged her in conversation about her work and discovered that she had never been to the local museums to look at the pottery there (the city sports one of the best tile museums in the world); has never heard of of Izniks (one of the world’s top three museum for Iznik pottery is only five kilometers away from her studio); and had a vague notion that Chinese export-porcelain had been made by the Portuguese.

I had a strong sense of a deja vu:  a piano teacher had once confessed to me at the Suvarnabhumi airport — confessed without the slightest suggestion of embarrassment — that she had never heard of Domenico Scarlatti.

Conclusion:  if it looks like the work of an ignoramus, it probably is.  If you don’t know the past, you aren’t overthrowing it, are you? 

(Corollary 1:  And if you knew it, you probably wouldn’t be).

(Corollary 2:  If you don’t remember the past, you can’t even repeat it).


Three Urbinos at the Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Maiolicas — painted faiance pottery from North Italy — mainly Romagna and Umbria — comes in many styles/ color schemes; but the rich, warm colors of Ubrino are unique within the group — “Urbinos”.


Five Delfts at the Museu de Arte Antiga

Large serving plates. Weirdly, the less they try to look Chinese, the better they look.


Some Sevres pieces at the Wallace, London


Iznik pottery at the Çinili Koşk, Istanbul Archeology Museums, Istanbul

The quality of design and painting on this plate richly deserved the painstaking gluing together of the thirty some pieces into which it had been broken. Other delightful pieces at the Çinili Koşk include this fanciful 16th century pitcher (missing a handle), dug up near the Grand Bazaar:

(what would you call this pattern? “Castles in the clouds”? “Earthquake”?)

and two very beautifully painted lamps:


Some azulejo tiles from São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon

Among Lisbon’s many mysteries is her patron saint who arrived in the city… as a dead corpse washed up on her shores. The church dedicated to him (and the patriarch’s seat) remained for many years outside the city walls. The monks being monks — and therefore men and therefore always liable to come up with some unruly scheme no matter how saintly they were supposed to be — were kept firmly under lock and key — to — ahem — protect the innocent.  Their only chance to disport themselves out of doors were the monastery’s two large cloisters, of which this is one, now deliciously empty.  Both are still covered all around, up and down, in azulejos, the Portuguese version of the colored wall tile and one of Portugal’s greatest — and most ubiquitous — homegrown art-forms (and, unjustly, hardly known outside her borders).  Tellingly, the scenes depicted on the walls of the cloisters were those of… the great outdoors, to give the locked-up men a semblance of the pleasure of walking unimpeded through the countryside.

Note: these photos are intentionally HUGE. Look at the details: the variety of different styles of brushwork — one really pays attention to brushwork in monochrome art!


A few Topkapi shards at the Kutahya museum

Two days spent with artists in Kutahya who are trying to revive the great art of Iznik pottery teaches you mainly one thing: how difficult the technique is. The art of making quartz pottery has been lost. Old Iznik was 85-90% quartz, making it not only incredibly durable – you can whack quartz pottery with stones and not even make a chip; but also strangely luminous: the colors on quartz pottery are richer, more vibrant, instantly recognizable, and irreproducible in any other material. Thus, one aspect of the project is to find the formula for the bicuit. Another is to find the right glaze to match it – quartz is water resistant and both paint and glaze stick to it with difficulty; meaning that they tend to run (“smear”) in the kiln. Then, there are problems with the painting technique. Unabsorbent and slow drying as it is, quartz presents special problems with color mixing (applying one on or next to another) and shadowing (applying different shades of the same color). Which in turn leads to problems with the paints themselves: it has been possible to get good results with green and blue; but the special red – the “Armenian red”, always a secret – remains elusive: there are problems trying to discover the precise shade of red; but also obtaining a semi-transparent color (which will allow shadowing) and which will lie flat on the surface (instead of forming round, three-dimensional beads).

So, you have spent two days looking at the modern experiments and then stumble onto a couple shards from the Topkapi – perhaps late 16th century – and you are stunned by the color, the precision, the quality of painting. The artists of the past were very special people – says one of the modern day artists. They were… – he looks for a word – inspired, he says.


Percival David: more porcelains from the Imperial collection

(For Chopin Competition coverage, scroll down).

David’s background was a Jewish family in British India, but originating in Baghdad. His father, Sir Sassoon David, was an important businessman in Bombay (now Mumbai), and a banker, being a founder of the Bank of India.

The Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art is a collection of Chinese ceramics and related items in London, England. The Foundation’s main purpose is to promote the study and teaching of Chinese art and culture. The Collection consists of some 1,700 pieces of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing porcelain from the 10th century to the 18th. It includes examples of the rare Ru and Guan wares and two important Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain temple vases (the “David Vases”) the oldest dated blue and white porcelain objects, from 1351 A.D. It also holds a large library of Western and East Asian books related to Chinese art. In 1950 the Collection was presented to the University of London and has been displayed at the British Museum.


Percival David, London: some porcelains from the Imperial Collection

The main reason to visit London, of course, is the Percival David collection, now housed in a newly built, beautiful exhibit in the British Museum.  I’ve spent many afternoons there and will spread my photo-report over a few posts.  Here’s the fist.  Now, back to Chopin, fellas.


Victoria and Albert: porcelain collection: Coalport

Who says that more is not more? Makes an impression, does it not?

Flower-encrusted “Coalbrookdale ware” was made from 1820’s until about 1840’s.

(Porcelain flowers were once the exclusive specialty of Sevres; other porcelain factories – like Meissen – bought them in bulk to incorporate them into their products. They are very hard to come by these days. Keep your eyes peeled: spotting them is harder than trains).


Ceramics at Victoria and Albert (Take Two)

I am reposting this with new, much larger photos. The current size should allow you to retrace (nearly) every pattern in the gallery. (Only a few photos are not clear enough to give that level of detail — on account of the way the object is displayed).

I have been interested in porcelain for some ten years now; and collecting it for the last six; I own two dozen books on the subject and must have read several score; this is my third trip to London since I caught the bug, and my fourth week here on this visit; yesterday was perhaps my twelfth visit to the V&A on this trip alone. How well hidden must therefore the sixth floor collection of porcelain be that I have not until now heard of it? Unheard of, unsung, empty: hardly a visitor at all while wild crowds mill on the floors below. And yet it is easily the largest collection of museum-quality porcelain I have yet been to: ten rooms with two corridors each, with displays running both sides: between six shelves high and three-to-six rows deep. It must be — I don’t know — three linear miles of porcelain? And what pieces! Hah! I was dazed at first and then began to laugh:  who would ever do such a crazy thing?  It seemed impossible. Have I died and gone to heaven? Was I dreaming? Was someone playing a cruel joke on me?

Clickable gallery below and a special friend below that.

And at the end of the gallery I came upon this — an old acquaintance: made in the short-lived Belvedere Porcelain Works in Warsaw, this plate was part of a set sent as a gift from the last king of Poland to the Sultan. It was probably delivered by an ancestor who went on a secret embassy to Istanbul in late 1780’s.


On the virtues of ruthless destruction

And then there is this.

Actually, there were two, but I have sent the other one away because it had a speck of dust under its white glaze, and several ugly colorless dots in it (which you could see if you only tilted the plate to the light just so).  23 euros — 30 you know whats — isn’t cheap price for plate.

Anything that costs 23 euros — 30 you know whats — should well be perfect or — not be at all.

At the Imperial Kilns they used to destroy all work which was in the least less than perfect.  Literally: they’d  fire 10,00o pieces, then a commission would go through the lot and — mercilessly shred 9,992.

This is why Imperial Kilns fetch seven figures now which — let’s be honest about this — Vista Allegre never will:  not enough ruthless destruction in the quality department there.

The problem is universal and all premium brands have been infected.  They have come to imagine that the reason why they can charge the prices they do is because of their name; but it is the other way around:  they owe their name to the uncompromising standards of the last generation of managers who would have rather severized their gonads than let out a less than perfect thing.

They live on that reputation now.

They must remember it.


From the diary of pleasures

I have been a good boy this week:  kept my nose clean, have not been uppity once with the lady downstairs, made all the phone calls at the right times, cleaned out my desk on Friday.  So, I figured I deserved a reward and… gave myself this.  This is a classic — read:  cheapish — line from Vista Allegre called Goa.  It is certainly classic:  both in drawing and in color — Iznik afficionadoes call it Armenian Red.  I got the sobremesa size because the larger plates — despite having precisely the same drawing and proportions — did not feel right.  Somehow, this one is perfect.

Odd, this:  like all girls will always stridently deny, size matters.


Miss Piggy’s gone to market

Readers of a certain other blog will be delighted to meet an old friend here.  Last time we saw this piece, she lacked the fine metal-work cover, which made us miss the obvious fact that she is a censer (duh!); but gave us the opportunity to stare down her…  er…  rather explicit grouper-like throat.  The estimate is for 60-80K, but, we rest contented thinking she’ll make six figures easy.  300K, shall we say?  Watch here on May 12th to check how accurate our prediction was.

So, this is how the art market works, dear friends:  assemble a collection of something, then put on a show at a renowned museum, complete with a good catalog, then take it to auction.. Presto!  The first time we saw this mechanism at work was in the case of the Castellani jewelry show at the Louvre.  But the pattern has since repeated itself.  Marketing, say the MBAs.  Market manipulation say us chickens.

Which leaves us with just one thing to say:  thank God Almighty of France and all the gods of China and Vietnam for Alain Truong.  Our lives would be untold times poorer but for his incessant labor at bringing us all these delicious goodies.

And one more:  we wonder what Francisco Capello is collecting now, as that, obviously, is the place to be now.

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PS  Our friend Francisco seems to be dumping the lot, by the way. Even this qingbai Sung dynasty pillow.  Wow.  Had it been us, we would have kept it at least, to rest our carefully coiffed brow upon.  But, hey, the man knows what he’s doing!  Sell, sell, sell!