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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

My Quintessential Chinese Art Reading List during COVID Lockdowns

Updated: May 1, 2021

And we made it to December! Just when things started to look better in the early months of the Fall, Toronto is back in lockdown-mode again while I am writing this blog.

This current lockdown will last until December 18th (at least) so hopefully we will all see some improvements with the 'curve' as the weeks progress. Everyone is hoping for a less anxious Christmas holiday and hopefully a vaccine will be available to the public soon.

This edition of my blog will be a bit different from the other ones I have written in the past. I haven't been able to view the recent international auction previews or visit museum exhibitions during the Fall season because of the pandemic's impact.

My last major overseas trip was a March visit to New York City, but other than that, I haven't been traveling much in the past nine months except for a work trip to Ottawa (September) and Vancouver (October). For the most part, I've just been mostly staying at home.

I have definitely been catching up on my reading list and finally going through some of the books I purchased over the past two years. I thought I'd share a couple of them with you since they are all extremely useful Chinese art resources.

Many of these books and catalogues were acquired over the past two years from various trips to museums and art galleries, or were simply presents from friends and colleagues. They have all be an incredible addition to my ever-expanding library.

For Blessings and Guidance: the Qianlong Emperor's Design for State Sacrificial Vessels

Fig 1. Iain Clark. For Blessings and Guidance: the Qianlong Emperor's Design for State Sacrificial Vessels. Hong Kong: Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2019.

A gift from my father, this is one of the first major international publications written in Chinese and English on the subject of Imperial ritual wares of the Qianlong Court (1736-1795).

Ritual offerings to ancestors have been around in China for thousands of years because it was one of the methods to prove the legitimacy of the current reign. These ritual wares would have been places in various shrines and altars within the Forbidden Palace and other important locations around China.

The majority of these 18th Century objects were monochromatic vessels based on bronze prototypes from the Shang to Warring States Period - hence their unusual shapes.

Traditionally made of bronze, these vessels stored food and wine for ancestors and deities. It was during the 18th Century that a lot of these vessels were made of porcelain. This was a deliberate attempt by the current reign to have the spirits dine in a material they were accustomed to.

The author Iain Clarke is an Australian engineer and one of the first collectors and researchers to really delve into the subject of 18th Century ritual wares. This catalogue was part of a 2019 exhibition at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Joined Colours: Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain

Fig 2. Louis Allison Cort, Jan Stuart and Laurence Tam. Joined Colours: Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain: Ceramics from Collectors in the Min Chiu Society. Washington D. C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1993.

This classic book is one of the best introductions on coloured Chinese porcelains. It was given to me by a former curator from the University of Hong Kong who is now an independent researcher.

The term 'joined colors' refers to decorations on Chinese ceramics where the artist added numerous coloured enamels in creating a design for a porcelain ware (as opposed to monochromes and blue and white ware). The examples in this catalogue include designs in doucai, famille rose, famille verte and wucai enamels on porcelain.

This exhibition catalogue was a collaboration between the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Min Chiu Society of Hong Kong.

Formed in 1960, the prestigious Min Chiu Society consists of private collectors who met monthly to discuss Chinese antiques, paintings and culture. This exhibition was one of the first instances where members loaned items for a group exhibition outside of Hong Kong. Notable names who participated in this show include T. T. Tsui, Dr. Simon Kwan, C. P. Lin, and the Tianminlou Foundation.

Provenace: Collectors, Dealers & Scholars in the Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain & America

Fig. 3. Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek. Provenace: Collectors, Dealers & Scholars in the Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain & America. Oxon: Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek, 2011.

Despite only purchasing this one in London of November 2019, I can clearly state that this is one of most important reference books I have ever encountered. I really should have acquired the book when it was first published in 2011, but I was intimidated by the £200 price tag.

This book would have helped me so much over the years when it comes down to the research of provenance for Chinese art. It offers a comprehensive list (with biographies) of all the important dealers and collectors in North America and Europe during the 20th Century.

This book was extensively researched and written by Roy Davids, a specialist in manuscripts and writings of notable figures, and Dominic Jellinek, who from 1978-1992 was employed at Bluetts, one of the important Chinese art dealers of the 20th Century.

The Chinese Collection: Selected Works from the Norton Museum of Art

Fig. 4. John R. Finlay, Colin Mackenzie and Jenny F. So. The Chinese Collection: Selected Works from the Norton Museum of Art. West Palm Beach: The Norton Museum of Art, 2003.

This catalogue I purchased in West Palm Beach during a crazy 1.5 day art consultation trip. It was my first time visiting this city, and over 30 years since I last visited Florida (that was for a family trip to Disney World). Visiting the Norton Museum of Art was quite an extraordinary experience and the quality of the objects there were breathtaking.

The catalogue goes through the museum's Chinese art collections where they have an extensive collection of export porcelain, archaic jades and bronzes, Qing Dynasty jades and Qing porcelain.

The museum's founder Ralph H. Norton was an admirer of Chinese art and began acquiring Chinese 18th and 19th Century jade carvings from the legendary dealer Stanley Charles Nott. In the early 1950's he added to the collection by purchasing ancient Chinese jades and archaic bronzes from the major Paris and New York dealers C. T. Loo and Frank Caro.

China without Dragons: Rare Pieces from Oriental Ceramic Society Members

Fig 5. Regina Krahl (editor). China without Dragons: Rare Pieces from Oriental Ceramic Society Members. London: Oriental Ceramic Society, 2016.

A gift from a good friend, this massive book features an exhibition of over 100 Chinese ceramics from the Neolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty. It is joint published by The Oriental Ceramic Society and Sotheby's London.

The London Oriental Ceramic Society was formed in 1921 and is the longest serving association for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian ceramics in the world. The founding members included the famous collectors S. D. Winkilworth and George Eumorfopoulos, with later members including Sir Percival David and Sir Harry Garner.

The cover of this book features a detail of an exceptionally rare famille rose brushpot inscribed with a poem by the Imperial kiln supervisor Tang Yin (1682-1756). This brushpot comes from the collection of Society member Sam Marsh who just recently published his own book (and probably my next purchase) Brushpots: A Collectors View.

The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century

Fig. 6. Zoe S. Kwok. The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century. Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2019.

I didn't actually make it to this exhibition, but this catalogue is a wonderful gift from the associate curator Zoe S. Kwok at the Princeton University Art Museum. It deals with the importance of feasts in Chinese history as displayed through art objects from the 10th to 14th centuries. Here, they discuss how banquets were important in everyday life for political, ritual and religious purposes.

Folklore in Ming and Qing Porcelain

Fig. 7. Rachel Leung (editor) and Andrew Lai. Folklore in Ming and Qing Porcelain. Hong Kong: Sun Museum, 2019.

This catalogue is one of the most low key yet impressive exhibitions I have seen in the past year. It was on display in the relatively new Sun Museum in Hong Kong and features objects from the renowned Song de Tang collection.

The Song de Tang is the collection name for a Hong Kong-based family of Chinese art dealers and collectors. The objects they loaned to the museum are mostly from the late Ming, Transitional and Kangxi periods, and each tell a story taken from Chinese history, poetry and folklore

China Rediscoverd: The Benaki Museum Collection of Chinese Ceramics

Fig. 8. George Maginis. China Rediscoverd: The Benaki Museum Collection of Chinese Ceramics. Athens and London: Benaki Museum and Haus Publishing, 2016.

This catalogue was in my Amazon 'wish list' for 3 years and it was just recently that I made the purchase. It provides a wonderful survey on Chinese ceramics in the Benaki Museum, Athens.

I can honestly say I never thought there would be much Chinese Art in Athens, but there is an interesting story as to how the museum acquired the largest collection in Greece.

As mentioned prior, one of the founders of the Oriental Ceramic Society was the businessman George Eurmofopolous (1863-1939). He was born in Liverpool to a family of Greek descent, but he didn't have any ties to his motherland.

Eurmofopolous was an ardent collector of Japanese and Chinese art, with a particular focus on ceramics from the Song Dynasty. Towards the of his life, he gifted over 800 Chinese ceramic wares to the Benaki Museum which just opened in 1931. It was a gesture where he can connect with his ancestral homeland and introduce Greece to his longstanding love affair with Chinese Art.

The cover of this catalogue features one of Eurmofopolous prized donations - a celadon longquan censer from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).

Gems of the Chinese Antiquities Collection: 100 Selected Works of Chinese Ceramics

Fig. 9. Maria Mok (editor). Gems of the Chinese Antiquities Collection: 100 Selected Works of Chinese Ceramics. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Museum of Art, 2019.

This catalogue celebrates the reopening of the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2019 by showcasing 100 ceramic objects from their permanent collection. The museum was under renovation for almost 5 years which made many people (like me) very sad every time I visited the city.

The objects included include Neolithic jars, Song ceramics, Imperial porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties, and 20th Century southern Chinese shiwan folk art. I included some of these highlights in a blog I put together appropriately titled The Re-opening of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

This current book replaces the one below which was first published in 1984. You can see how battered my old catalogue is - I think it was one of the first Chinese Art books I acquired when I started in this field approximately 15 years ago.

Its cover depicts one of my favourite Chinese porcelain pieces of all time and certainly a highlight of the museum - a rare famille rose and doucai enamelled moonflask from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795).

The Wonders of the Potter's Palette: Qing Ceramics from the Collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art

Fig. 9a. Laurence C. C. Tam. The Wonders of the Potter's Palette: Qing Ceramics from the Collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1984.

Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown and Black Gazed Ceramics, 400-1400

Fig. 10. Robert D. Mowry. Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown and Black Gazed Ceramics, 400-1400. Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1995.

This catalogue is extremely difficult to find and has been an essential resource for collectors and professionals in the museum and auction fields. At the time of publication, this was one of the most comprehensive books on Chinese brown and black glazed ceramics from the Six Dynasties (220-589) to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

In addition to using Harvard's own collection of ceramic wares, numerous top quality objects were on loan from museums and private collections across North America

What makes this book even more impressive is that in addition to the great photos, extensive catalogue entries and bibliography, it also lists the chemical components for the various glazes used to decorate the objects AND describes how the objects should feels if you were to examine them in person.

That's it for this edition of my blog. Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to send me an email. If you enjoyed reading this, let me know and I can try to put together something similar in the future.

Future 'book' themes can either deal in more specific categories of Chinese art i.e. books on Chinese furniture or Chinese jade carvings, or I can focus on other regions such as the art of Japan or the Himalayas.


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