Inspiration & Imitation: Appetite & Appropriation of Exotic Porcelain

Although seaborne trades had been active for centuries, it was not until 1602 when the Dutch East India Company was founded that a monopoly on trades in the far east occurred.  

The Dutch East India Company (commonly known as the VOC: Verenigde Oost-Indische Compangnie) developed trade routes and established the Batavian entrepôt for silks, spices, and porcelain wares. The VOC had vast commercial interests and enjoyed a monopoly in the trade to and from India and the East, resulting in large sums of Asian porcelain reaching European and British shores, and satiating the demand for delicate porcelain wares with foreign designs. The increased export of Chinese wares led to the broader influence of Chinese design, captivating the western world with its mystery and charm. This enthusiasm for and appropriation of Chinese design was so prolific that the term ‘chinoiserie’ was coined to identify it.

Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1630-1639), The Courtyard of the Stock Exchange, VOC Headquarters, Amsterdam, between 1670 and 1690 / Amsterdam Museum

Colloquially known as the porcelain capital of China, Jingdezhen is a province synonymous with porcelain since the Song Dynasty, having produced imperial wares since the 6th century. Mastering their craft over hundreds of years, the Chinese had established advances in porcelain techniques and decorations over their foreign counterparts, making their pieces very desirable and resulting in European copies of Chinese styles. 

The Derby plate, dating to 1760, is an English example of chinoiserie, featuring a Chinese pagoda in landscape scene, all in underglaze blue, the cavetto decorated with a basketweave border with alternating insect designs. Blue and white wares, unlike tin glazes that were preferred in the 16th century, gained popularity due to their fine execution and interesting designs that included botanicals, landscape scenes, auspicious symbols, and mythical creatures. 

A Derby blue and white porcelain plate, circa 1760. Provenance:
Bernard Warney Collection, London

By the early 17th century, political unrest in China and the Manchu invasion disrupted the porcelain production at Jingdezhen. During this time, Japan was implementing their sakoku (closed country) policy, prohibiting foreigners entering Japan and the nationals leaving. Leveraging their foreign power, the VOC negotiated entry into Japan, being the only Europeans to achieve this, and establishing an alternate supply from Japan to fill the trade demands.

Japanese porcelain was produced at the Arita kilns, where until that point porcelain wares were made solely for local consumption. By the end of the century, Arita was catering predominately to export demands, which consisted of blue and white, Imari, and kakiemon wares. Imari and kakiemon were unlike the familiar blue and white porcelain of the period, charming the West with their bold colours and asymmetrical designs sitting predominately against the pure white porcelain ground. 

A first period Worcester ‘Brocade’ pattern bowl
Circa 1765. $300-400

These porcelain patterns were highly prized and meticulously copied, and by the 18th century the Europeans and then the English developed their own interpretation of kakiemon and Imari decoration, encapsulated by this dessert bowl by Worcester, decorated in the bold palette of kakiemon design, dating to 1765. 

These interesting porcelain pieces feature in our forthcoming single owner auction, The Collection of the late Patricia Begg OAM. 

Patricia was a heavyweight of the porcelain world, contributing to education and philanthropy, and raising over $700,000 for charities through lectures concerning ceramics, glass, and lace. Internationally, Patricia was a respected member of the English Ceramic Circle, the Oriental Ceramics Society, The French Porcelain Society, and the Northern Ceramics Circle in England. Closer to home, she was not only a member of the Ceramics and Glass Circle of Australia, but the president until her passing in 2019, and a founding member. 

Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (1562/1563–1640) The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies (detail), 1599, Rijksmuseum

In 2002, she received an Order of Australia for her work in aged care through the Uniting Church in Australia, music through the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the decorative arts via the Ceramics and Glass Circle of Australia. In 2006, Patricia and her daughter Anne McNair were tasked to assist in the completion of the Catalogue of the Lady Ludlow Collection of English Porcelain at the Bowes Museum, England. Published in 2007, this remains a core reference on English ceramics. 

This collection comprises her remaining works that were not donated to the National Gallery of Victoria, a good and broad cross section of European, English, Japanese, and Chinese porcelain from the 17th-21st centuries. 

Her love and deep understanding of porcelain history, technique, and design is best captured by a quote, “The marriage of the potter and the painter produce individual and unique pieces for posterity.”

By Chiara Curcio, Head of Decorative Arts, Design & Interiors

Top Image (detail): Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (1562/1563–1640) The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies (detail), 1599, Rijksmuseum

May 2024