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: A Gift of Chinese Porcelain


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Society has received as a gift from Mrs. Edward C. Gale a collection of eleven pieces of Chinese porcelain, eight of which were formerly in the famous Morgan collection. The porcelains so generously given by Mrs. Gale have been installed in the Oriental room on the main floor where they will prove a source of great attraction not only to all students of Far Eastern art, but to all visitors who appreciate beauty of color and form. With one exception, a large plate with butterfly decoration, of the K’ang Hsi period, the porcelains in the Institute’s new collection are of the solid or monochrome variety. Although the exact date of the invention of porcelain must remain conjectural, by the time of the Sung dynasty (960-1279) we have ample evidence of the manufacture of this precious branch of the ceramic arts. Porcelain has been broadly defined as the generic term employed to designate all kinds of pottery to which an incipient vitrifaction has been imparted by firing. Porcelain was certainly invented in China, and resulted from a gradual progress in the selection of materials used by the potter and in the perfection of methods of manufacture. All Chinese porcelain is of the hard paste variety; that is, the body consists of two elements, the white clay or kaolin which gives plasticity to the paste, and the felspathic stone or petuntse which is fusible at a high temperature and gives transparency to the porcelain. The glaze of Chinese porcelain is made of the same felspathic stone and is used in the composition of the body, mixed with lime. This glaze is finally put on the raw body with a brush, by dipping, or by insufflation.The earliest examples of porcelain are practically without exception examples of monochromes, being covered generally with glazes of single colors either of uniform or mottled tint and exhibiting either plain or crackled surfaces. Solid colored porcelains continued to enjoy favor throughout the later periods. During the period of K’ang Hsi, 1662-1712, were produced those marvelous examples of deep ruby red or sang-de-beouf of which two of the most famous examples in the world are in the Morgan collection, the two vases known respectively as the Ruby and the Flame. Monochromes of this period, particularly the early examples, are distinguished by the perfection of the glaze and the strength and virility of the color. In the later period of Yung Chêng and Ch’iên Lung, 1723-1795, the solid color porcelains exhibit a great variety and the utmost refinement and delicacy of color. The porcelains given by Mrs. Gale belong to the three periods named above; four to the period of K’ang Hsi, 1662-1722, four to the period of Yung Chéng, 1723-1735, and three to the period of Ch’iên Lung, 1736-1795, and represent the supreme achievements of the great potters of this epoch when the potter’s art was an almost sacred cult, restricted in use to royalty and the environment of royalty. The collection does not, of course, represent the full range of colors produced in these periods but is distinguished by the presence of many vases exhibiting the rarest and most beautiful of solid colors. The pieces have been arranged in one case, and this brief article may be of greatest use to the visitor, if, in the following description of individual pieces, the order is followed in which the objects are arranged.Beginning with the top shelf at the left, the first piece is a cabinet-size gallipot, deep violet in color. Under the glaze of the foot is the seal of Ch’iên Lung, to which period this piece belongs. The central piece on this shelf is a white globular-shaped vase with dragon decoration engraved under the glaze. This beautiful vase was made in the period of Yung Chêng. The five clawed dragon occurring in the design is an imperial symbol. The next piece is a bottle of the K’ang Hsi period. The white porcelain is invested with a brilliant glaze of mirror-black which on close examination reveals the “ghost” of an elaborate decoration originally applied in gold, but now vanished. The designation of “raven’s wing” is sometimes applied to these mirror-black examples. The latter name, however, seems the better as it describes more strikingly the brilliancy of the glaze.The first vase of the middle shelf is one of the rarest pieces of the collection. This vase is distinguished by its beautiful yellow glaze, of great purity and strength of hue. The surface of the vase is delicately pitted, suggesting the texture of a lemon or orange. The vase was made in the period of Yong Chêng. The small gallipot beside it dates from the same period and is a particularly attractive example of pale celadon glaze through which is seen a floral decoration in low relief beautifully modelled and drawn. Exquisite in color is the central piece on the shelf, a wide-necked jar invested with a rose-pink crackle glaze having a dull lustre. This piece, dating from the period of K’ang Hsi, is a superb example of the rare ashes of rose in monochromes. It is reproduced in color in the privately printed catalogue of the Morgan collection. This honor it shares with the next piece, the small egg-form vase in the rare apple-green color. A giant crackle covers the surface and extends over the foot. This vase is of the stone weight variety of porcelain, and dates from the period of K’ang Hsi. The apple-green pieces are among the rarest of monochromes, and are eagerly sought by collectors. Certainly the beauty of the color and exquisite quality of the glaze makes this readily comprehensible. The two pieces just described were shown at the Metropolitan Museum in the same case which contained the most highly prized of Mr. Morgan's monochrome porcelains. The last piece on this shelf is a small bottle of the Ch’iên Lung period in brilliant pea-green, a very unusual color of great beauty.Coming now to the bottom shelf, the first piece on the left is a camellia-green vase with crackle under the glaze, a very rare form. The piece dates from the reign of Yung Chêng. In the center is the large plate with flower and butterfly decoration in brilliant enamel colors on a frog-spawn ground. This plate of the famille verte class is a K’ang Hsi production. The last piece to be described is a pale celadon bottle of the Ch’iên Lung period. The glaze is the finest possible quality with a soft brilliant lustre. The foot is covered with the same glaze. It may be of interest to remark that celadon, a delicate sea-green color, is one of the oldest colors to be found among the Chinese monochrome porcelains. Pieces of celadon were highly prized by princes and noblemen as it was thought that such pieces hat the magical property of turning color should they be used to contain poison. All the pieces described above, with the exception of three, namely, the white vase, the yellow, and the camellia-green, come from the Morgan collection which, it will be recalled, until a few months ago was one of the great attractions of the Metropolitan Museum in New York where for many years it had been on loan. Although everyone will regret the breaking up of this celebrated collection, nevertheless Minneapolis has cause to rejoice that through the generosity of Mrs. Gale the Institute has come into the possession of some of the treasures which originally formed part of this world-famous collection.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Chinese porcelains, XVII and XVIII centuries, gift of Mrs. Edward C. Gale
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Source: Joseph Breck, "A Gift of Chinese Porcelain," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 4, no. 6 (June, 1915): 58-61.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009