Amazing Chinese Porcelain Highlights in Boston and Worcester
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Hope everyone is having a nice summer! I've been keeping myself busy the past few months. In addition to a work trip to Vancouver in July and various Asian art appraisal projects, I put together a lecture for the CSDA (Canadian Society of Decorative Arts) in early August titled An Introduction to the Chinese Art Market - Highlights from Around the World and Canada.
I was also invited to do a talk in late August for the Young Women of Asian Art. This group of esteemed colleagues across North America and the United Kingdom host monthly meetings to discuss current Asian art subjects. My lecture was titled Collecting Asian Art in Canada: An introduction to the people who shaped the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
During August I also managed to visit Boston for two weeks. This was my first trip to the USA since March of 2020, just as the pandemic was reaching North America - my last visit was recorded in one of my more popular blogs.
If you love Asian art, you'll know that Boston is one of the best places in North America to visit. Boston is led by one of the strongest collections in the world at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. With respect to Chinese art, they are particularly well-known for their Chinese porcelain, Song ceramics, ancient bronze vessels, Buddhist sculptures and classical paintings.
In addition to the Boston MFA, there is also an incredible collection of Chinese art at the Harvard Art Museum (which was unfortunately still closed during my visit) and a small, but focused collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Anyways, here are some of the Chinese porcelain highlights at the Boston MFA. There's definitely many more pieces showcase, so this is just a sample selection.
Image 1. A Famille Rose 'Landscape' Vase, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1995). This is one of the most outstanding examples of this type of 'lantern' vase in North America with its delicate painting of two scholars traversing a rocky mountain pass. The level of detail is quite amazing.
Image 2. A Famille Rose Blue Ground Floral Vase, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795). This extremely rare vase is painted in yangcai (foreign) enamels, and if it were to hit the market, the vase would probably be on the front cover of an auction catalogue.
These types of vases were designed specifically by the imperial kiln superintendent Tang Yin during the 1740's and commissioned for the Qianlong emperor's private quarters. The decoration is heavily influenced by European Baroque aesthetics that was transmitted to the Chinese court through visiting Jesuit priests in the early part of the 18th Century.
Image 3. A Famille Rose Red Ground 'Floral and Lingzhi Fungus' Bottle Vase, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795). Another vase with yangcai enamels, albeit in a red ground with medallions containing floral blooms and sprigs of lingzhi fungus (a symbol of longevity).
Image 4. A Falangcai Blue Ground 'Lotus' Bowl, Kangxi Yuzhi Mark and Period (1662-1722). This is another impressive bowl painted in foreign colours during the late 17th to early 18th Century. It was donated to the museum through the impressive collection of Paul and Helen Bernat. I wrote about this collection through one of my VERY early blogs in 2016. A piece with a yuzhi mark on the base suggests it was an Imperial commission from the emperor.
Image 5. A Blue and White 'Musk Mallow' 'Palace' Bowl, Chenghua Mark and Period (1464-1487). These palace bowls are some of the rarest and most renowned bowls in the Chinese porcelain pantheon. They are particularly well known for their soft blues and graceful floral paintings. There is supposedly less than 100 of these types of bowls in existence today.
Image 5a. A view of the interior and the numerous florals.
Image 6. A Large Reverse Blue and White Dragon Charger, Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Despite being displayed at an awkward angle (the head of the dragon should be at 6 o'clock), this is one of only three recorded examples of this type of charger. These chargers were traded to the Islamic Court, and this particular example would have been gifted to an important dignitary.
As a side-note, this particular charger actually came from an estate just to the east of Toronto. In 2013 it was sold for a Canadian-record-price for a Chinese work of art at just over CAD 1 million.
Just outside of Boston in the town of Worcester is another great museum with an impressive Asian art collection. Aptly titled the Worcester Art Museum, this was my first time visiting the institution even though I've heard such great things about them.
The museum is approximately a 50 minute drive west of Boston, and the collection is known for its European paintings, Greco-Roman and Egyptian art, and the Chinese art gallery.
I'll be showing some of my Chinese art highlights (more porcelain!) from this trip if you keep scrolling down.
Image 7. A Pair of Famille Rose Red Ground Floral Bowl, Yongzheng Yuzhi Mark and Period (1723-1735). This is not just a single bowl, but A PAIR! Both of them have a Yongzheng yuzhi mark which mean they were made by official order by the Imperial court. They were donated to the museum by the Bernat family in 1975, this time by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Bernat.
Image 8. A Large Celadon Vase, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795). This is such an impressive vase due to its large size and even celadon tone. You can see that it has a very graceful lobed form as well, which would have been incredibly difficult to shape and fire.
Image 9. A Peachbloom Glazed Waterpot, Kangxi Mark and Period (1662-1722). Known as a beehive-shaped brushpot, these pieces were initially part of a set of eight that was made for the scholar's table.
The copper red 'peachbloom' glaze was very difficult to fire. This example was initially from the collection of legendary banker J. P. Morgan, and acquired by the Worcester Art Museum in 1916.
Image 10. A Blue and White Ming-Style Garlic Head Bottle Vase, Yongzheng Mark and Period (1723-1735). This is one of the most incredible vases of this type I have seen. Normally, we will see these vases from the Qianlong reign (1736-1795), so ones from the Yongzheng reign are extremely rare. The decorations, shape, and quality of the blue for this example are completely perfect.
Image 11. A Blue and White Vase, Early 15th Century. One of the highlights of the museum's entire collection is this ultra rare vase from the Ming Dynasty. This would have been probably made during the Yongle (1402-1424) or Xuande (1425-1424) reigns and there are so few recorded examples of this type of vase in existence.
The Worcester Art Museum also holds an impressive jade collection including these highlights:
Image 12. A Pale Celadon Jade Landscape Panel, 18th Century. In addition to the near-white colour of the jade panel, the carving is well-done, and one can actually feel the sense of depth of this mountain landscape.
Image 13. A Pale Celadon Jade Landscape Boulder, 18th Century. Another mountain landscape scene, this object was carved from a large jade boulder and depict two goats traveling along a mountainous path.
And that's it for this post! Hope you enjoyed it and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
My next trip to the USA will be quite soon. I will be flying to Chicago to help Hindman auctions prepare for their September 23 Asian Art sales. Immediately after, I will fly to New York for the Asia Week events where I will be visiting the preview at Bonhams, Christie's, and Sotheby's.