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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Chinese Ceramic Highlights from Hong Kong Museums

I can't believe it has been 2 months since my visit to Hong Kong! If you haven't read my companion post about to my trip in late May, please click here. The main purpose of the visit was to attend the numerous Chinese Art auction previews at Bonham's, Christie's, Sotheby's and China Guardian.

It was pretty crazy just to see the number of artwork available for sale, and the size of the auction spaces were much larger than what I was accustomed to seeing in New York and London.

During my spare time, I did manage to visit a few museums... and by a few, I mean pretty much all of them. Typically if you like Chinese Art, the Hong Kong Museum of Art would have been your primary destination. Located beside the Star Ferry terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, they feature a great collection of classical and 20th Century Chinese paintings, and an extensive collection of ceramics, porcelain and other works of art. The museum is still undergoing a massive renovation and unfortunately won't be open until (gasp!) 2018 or 2019.

I ended up going to some of the smaller museums as an alternative. But their lack of square footage doesn't mean that the items on display are any less appealing!

Just above Pacific Mall in the Admiralty district is the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the K. S. Lo Museum. The items were all donated by Lo Kwee-Seong (1910-1995), a Hong Kong businessman, philanthropist and art collector. He founded Vitasoy, a brand of soy drink in Hong Kong that is as synonymous as Coke or 7Up. His museum features a collection of top-notch ceramics as well as a group of important seals from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty .

My two favourite pieces (amongst other things) from the K. S. Lo museum are:

A Ru Guanyao Shallow Dish, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127)

Ru wares are possibly the rarest and most desirable pieces of Chinese ceramics in existence. With less than 100 'complete' samples recorded, they are unique for its pleasant light blue glaze and perfect potting. Ru pieces were desired by pretty much every emperor and this is the only example displayed in Hong Kong. The majority of the world's Ru wares can be found in London, Beijing and Taipei.

A Blue and White Dragon Moonflask, Yongle Period (1403-1424), Ming Dynasty

If you have been following my Instagram or previous posts, you probably know that two of my favourite things are Chinese moon flasks and early Ming Dynasty blue and white porcelain. This stunning example has always been one of my beloved porcelain wares for its large size, excellent use of the cobalt blue 'heaping-and-piling' effect, and its bold design of a large three-clawed imperial dragon.

Initially it would have been a tribute piece during trade with the Middle East. I wrote about this flask while it was loaned to a 2015 exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History titled 'The Radiant Ming 1368-1644 through the Min Chiu Society'. My article was an exhibition review featured in the March 2016 issue of Orientations Magazine. If you want to read a pdf copy, please send me an email.

The K. S. Lo Museum can be viewed in about 30-45 minutes, but each of the ceramic wares are highly significant.

Another favourite stop of mine is the Art Museum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. First and foremost, it is FAR away from Central Hong Kong. If you are taking the subway, it would be about 50 minute trip north followed by a 10 minute shuttle bus to the campus. The museum is well worth the visit though. There is rotating display between its permanent collection and guest exhibitions every 3-4 months. They are known for their collection of Chinese paintings and calligraphy, as well as ceramics and various works of art including textiles, furniture and metalwork.

I was fortunate enough to visit during a rare display of their ceramic collection from the neolithic period to the present day. The majority of their highly items were on display including:

A Blue and White 'Lotus Pond' Charger, Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)

This charger is extremely rare for its large size and wonderful painting of multiple lotus blooms and plants. It would have been used for trade along the various routes from China to the Middle East.

A Large Blue and White 'Wind Swept' Jar, Guan, Hongzhi Period (1488-1505), Ming Dynasty

This large jar features large bold characters in the 'wind swept' manner - which basically means that the blue outlines appear to be being gently blown by the wind. Jars of this period usually contain figures with literati themes. In this example, one side features a scholar flanked by two attendants, the reverse depicts a group of scholars playing 'weiqi' (Chinese chess). (In the background, you can get an idea of gallery's layout, and also see two fine examples of peachbloom glazed porcelain from the Kangxi Period).

A Massive Blue and White 'Ten Thousand Shou' Vase, Kangxi Period (1662-1722), Qing Dynasty

Only four of these vases are known to exist. The sides are decorated with 10,000 unique stylized 'shou' (longevity) characters. They take on the form of constellations, seal scripts, trees and coins. I've never counted them all, but I'm guessing all the characters are there!

A Grisaille Decorated Brushpot, Qianlong Period (1736-1795), Qing Dynasty

Simple in form, this brushpot is one of the most important items in the Art Museum's collection. It was designed by Tang Ying (1682-1756), the imperial kiln supervisor who also oversaw the emperor's personal porcelain collection. The front features a fierce dragon after the Song Dynasty painter Chen Rong (13th Century), and applied with enamels mimicking ink paintings. The reverse has an imperial poem signed by Tang Ying.

In the smaller gallery at the Art Museum, the Nanjing Museum had on loan a selection of Chinese artworks depicting deer. Deer plays an important role in Chinese art since they symbolize longevity, integrity and high rank. One of the highlights from this small exhibition is:

A Bronze Deer Inlaid with Turquoise, Western Han Dynasty or Earlier (206 BC-AD 9)

This fine example is realistically modelled as a recumbent deer. There is the presence of detailed musculature in its body, in addition to a gentle face and prominent horns. Few bronze deer from this period period still exist making this model extremely rare. It is accentuated by turquoise inlays throughout the body.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. The summer has been fairly quiet so I have been steadily planning my Fall season. I will be in New York for Asian Week in mid-September for 4-5 days, and hopefully my next Chinese Art market trend report for Orientations magazine will be out by then!

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