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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Trip Hoppin' Chinese Porcelain in the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

I'm really having a blast during my trip to London! Not only am I enjoying the Asia Week in London events with all the auction previews and gallery visits (including a stop at Eskenazi for their latest exhibition), but also visiting various museums around the city.

During my visits to London, I also make a point to visit ONE museum outside of the London area. Recent years have taken me to the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

For this trip I went on a two day excursion to the city of Bristol.

Bristol was always a fascinating city to me - it was the birthplace of Trip hop music, a lo-fi combination of funk, rap and electronica - the stuff I listened to during my high school and early university years. So this was visit was a great way to pay homage to the city of Trip hop, and also visit the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which houses one of the greatest Asian art collections outside of London.

To get to Bristol is a two hour train ride from London. It's on the same line to Bath, but you just head westwards for another 45 minutes or so. The museum itself is located about a twenty minute walk from the city centre. It was founded in 1823 and slowly built up a collection of Old Master paintings, British art, archaeology and even dinosaurs. They do have a wonderful collection of Japanese export art from the 17th to 19th Century, but I was unfortunately on tight schedule.

The Chinese art gallery is contains mostly the Schiller Collection of Eastern Art. Max Schiller was the Recorder of Bristol from 1935 to 1946 and upon his death, he bequeathed a large collection of Chinese ceramics to the museum.

These objects actually all came from Max's older brother Ferdinand N. Schiller, an early member of The Oriental Society in London, and a connoisseur who had great taste and foresight to collect Ming and Qing Dynasty porcelain. When Ferdinand died, he gave all his Chinese are objects to his younger brother.

Anyways here are some of the highlight photos I took within the Chinese art galleries during my three hours at the museum.

Chinese Buddhist art at the Bristol Museum

Image 1. A photo of me taking photos of the Buddhist art cabinet at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. For this cabinet alone, I could have spent a good 30 minutes looking at the objects.

Chinese Song Dynasty Dali Kingdom Standing Guanyin at the Bristol Museum

Image 2. An exceptional bronze figure of a standing Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion. Bodhisattvas are enlightened Buddhist beings who chose to stay on the earth to help ease humanity's suffering while preaching the dharma (divine law)

This figure comes from the mysterious Dali Kingdom in southwestern China, and was cast during the 11th/12th Century of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). During this past spring, I was able to see a similar example of this Guanyin sell at Christie's New York for USD 2.58 million (about CAD 3.5 million)!

Chinese Tang Dynasty Standing Guanyin at the Bristol Museum

Image 3. Here's another figure of Guanyin that I particularly like. This one was cast in gilt bronze and is dated to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The flaming mandorla in the back is intense!

Anthony Wu (me!) admiring early blue and white porcelain at the Bristol Museum

Image 4. A really good photo of me smiling (for once) and contemplating the order I should start looking at objects in the famous blue and white cabinet.

I didn't know if I should start with Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) objects and head to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) items. OR start with what I considered the major highlights, and focus more attention on those.

A large Chinese Yuan Dynasty blue and white guan jar at the Bristol Museum

Image 5. Well I did start with a major highlight that was from the Yuan Dynasty! I couldn't go really wrong with this giant guan jar with its intense 'heaping and piling' cobalt blues, large and bold lotus blooms, and the incredible qilyn mythical beasts on the shoulder. The bronze mountings were later additions.

Large Ming Dynasty Yongle Blue and White Grape Dish  at the Bristol Museum

Image 6. Here's another blue and white masterpiece at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. This is one of the finest examples of a 'grape' dish from the Yongle Period (1403-1424) I have ever come across.

The quality of the painting is stunning, as is the size and well-modelled foliate rim. This motif was influenced by Central Asian and Middle Eastern decorations through trade along the Silk Road.

Chinese Ming Dynasty Chenghua Blue and White 'Palace' Bowl at the Bristol Museum

Image 7a. If you are ever going to build a Ming Dynasty blue and white collection, the Holy Grail would have to be a 'palace' bowl from the Chenghua Period (1465-1487)!

These blue and white bowls are extremely rare and known for their lyrical interpretations of florals. The Chenghua blue cobalt is also extremely soft and delicate.

The florals on the bowl are day lilies, and a similar example sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong for HKD 56,738,000 (just under CAD 10 million) back in October of 2019.

Chinese Ming Dynasty Chenghua Blue and White 'Palace' Bowl at the Bristol Museum (interior)

Image 7b. Here's an interior shot of the Chenghua 'palace' bowl and its incredible day lilies design.

Selection of 18th Century Chinese jade carvings at the Bristol Museum

Image 8. The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery also has a stunning selection of jade carvings from the Qing Dynasty. All of these objects would be considered major highlights already, but from this display case, I particularly like the the deer holding onto the branch of lingzhi (longevity fungus) (#15), and the water buffalo (#13). These would have been made for the Qianlong court (1736-1795).

Anthony Wu (me) taking photos of 17th Century Chinese porcelain pieces at the Bristol Museum

Image 9. Here's a photo of me checking out a display case with mostly Kangxi Period (1664-1722) porcelain wares for the Chinese domestic market. From my iPhone, I was looking at the bottom of the rare doucai floral bowl on the top shelf.

A visitor at the Bristol Art Museum taking photos of Chinese imperial porcelain

Image 10. A photo of another fervent Chinese porcelain fan sizing up the ridiculous collection of 18th Century famille rose porcelain wares at the museum.

A rare Yongzheng famille rose pear shaped vase at the Bristol Museum

Image 11a. This is one of the most imperial vases I have seen in a while (and yes, I do tend to say that a lot).

This famille rose pear-shaped vase has some of the best depictions of florals and rockery I have encountered. Typically this design would be more prevalent on dishes and plates, and it is very rare to see it on a vase.

The reign mark of a rare Yongzheng famille rose pear shaped vase at the Bristol Museum

Image 11a. An attempt on my 'old' 2018 iPhone to zoom in and take a photo of the famille rose vase's six-character Yonzgheng reign mark (1723-1735). My zoom really isn't that great anymore and I might need to upgrade within the next year.

On the base you can also see some old inventory labels and an Oriental Ceramic exhibition sticker on the base.

A rare Chinese Qianlong period famille rose tianqiuping vase from the Bristol Museum

Image 12a. Another extremely rare vases in the famille rose display cabinet. This one is in a tianqiuping (heavenly sphere) form and contains a delightful scene of birds perched on a branch of pomegranates.

The reign mark of a rare Chinese Qianlong period famille rose tianqiuping vase from the Bristol Museum

Image 12b. A shot of the vase's base and its very rare early Qianlong reign mark (1736-1795). You can also see some of former exhibitions the vase has been associated with.

A selection of rare Chinese glass wares at the Bristol Museum

Image 13. The East Asian galleries of the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is also renowned for their Chinese glass collection. I already spent about 3 hours looking at all the ceramics and porcelain so didn't have enough time for this section of the gallery. I had a train to catch to get back to London, so I'll have to come back another time.

And that's it for this post! Let me know if you enjoy reading my visits to various Asian art museums around the planet! As for my next side trip to London (probably in May), I might venture up north to Birmingham or Manchester.

Stay tuned for some Chinese art auction highlights from Asia Week in London! Hopefully I'll have some of the results posted in my next blog scheduled for December.


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