Saturday, 16 February 2013

Chinese Export Porcelain 1556 - today

I think I can now deduce what shards are Chinese or Japanese porcelain. Their cross sections are dense like stoneware and very white. They don’t tend to stain, so despite being hundreds of years old look new. The blue and white decoration is slightly blurred, subdued and a lighter blue than transferware- a bit dreamy.
Mudlarking Finds: Chinese Export Porcelain with hand drawn flowers
Pretty common on the foreshore I can never pass them by and pick up 2-3 pieces on each visit.
These shards were usually hand painted with deceptively modern patterns. 
Mudlarking Finds: Dreamy porcelain
China was the first nation to discover the art of making porcelain possibly as early as 1300.
In the 16th Century Portugal began trading with China, importing Ming Dynasty blue and white porcelain, heralding the 300 year European love affair with porcelain. The Chinese began making porcelain specifically for the European market hence the term Chinese Export Porcelain and the first European port opened in Canton in 1556. Porcelain was a handy bit of cargo,  placed in the ships hulls it provided ballast and  was unaffected by water, allowing the more vulnerable silks, teas and furniture to be stored higher up.

In the early 1600s the Dutch captured two Portuguese ships laden with porcelain and other goods. The cargo was auctioned off, the buyers of this ‘white gold’ the European elite including the Kings of France and England. The Porcelain craze had begun – among those who could afford it. It is hard to imagine how wondrous it must have been. Nothing like it had been seen  before. The only pottery had been course earthenware. Chunky German stoneware was the  most refined. Westerwald wasn’t on the scene until the late 17th century and I believe delftware of this time was rather crude. These gleaming, smooth, white painted beauties began to replace the aristocracy's silver tableware.

Homage is paid in the 17th century Dutch still life paintings with Chinese export porcelain sometimes placed centre stage. 
Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten  1627-1698 (It's About Time) 
England and Holland began trading with China themselves, with each country's East Indian Company playing pivotal roles. In the middle of the 17th Century, civil war in China caused trade to shift to Japan. Porcelain trade was re-established with China again in the late 17th Century.

There are a bewildering array of types, Kraak, Famile Vert, blanc de chine, famille rose and patterns canton, mandarin, rose medallion, encre de chine, Fizhugh and bird and butterfly, all associated with particular periods.
Kraak Porcelain Bowl  1573-1620 (Pater Gratia Oriental Art) 
Kraak Porcelain Saucer 1575 - 1615 (Pater Gratia Oriental Art)
Over time Chinese potters produced European forms and designs ewers, mugs, candlesticks, sugar bowls and milk jugs. Wooden models were sent so they could learn how to produce these unfamiliar objects. European motifs Christian imagery, heraldry, classic mythology were used.
Chinese Export Porcelain Coffee Mug 1750 (Museum of London) 
1690 Porcelain Mug made for the English Market (Michael Pashby Antiques) 
By the late 18th century imports from china were declining as English ceramic innovation and mass production took over.  


  1. So surprised that you found an image on my blog, as I so love your blog.

  2. Hi! I am working on a project which requires that I try to tell the differences between chinese export porcelain and british imitation porcelain. What were your methods for distinguishing chine se from japanese porcelain? Do you recommend any books, articles, etc.?

    1. Sorry I haven't come across any articles which compare, I suspect differentiating Chinese export porcelain from Japanese is pretty difficult, although perhaps they used different motives. My experience through mudlarking is probably only in relation to Georgian types, the Chinese porcelain has the features I describe at the beginning of this post and tends to be quite chunky, the only English I've come across is probably early Worcester and Caughley, they tend to be quite thin, have different patterns often floral, more grainy and more often stained. Julia

    2. Hi Andrea and Julia,
      Sorry to just butt in (love your blog Julia!). Andrea, I would recommend contacting the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent ( As you will be aware, Stoke-on-Trent and the 'Potteries' area was and is most important for English ceramics. The museum has a superb collection not only of Staffordshire pottery, but also of Chinese and Japanese porcelain (and, who would have thought: Islamic ceramics! Mostly hidden in the stores though).
      Anyway, the expert you would want to contact ( is Claire Blakey. She works in the ceramics department and is an expert in Chinese and Japanese (export) porcelain. I am sure she could recommend some relevant literature and maybe even be of more help for your project.

      Hope that helps. Say hi from me :-)
      Rebecca Klarner

  3. To Rebecca Klarner,
    Hi Mdm,
    I m Sah from Sabah Malaysia...
    I m happy and interested in porcelain. Actually I have a few porcelain found from underground treasure in my place but I have a problem to know either its real or fake...
    Can I get your guide how to know it...
    my email :
    contact no. : +601129823993