1. Handle as many pieces as possible
Chinese ceramics have been copied for hundreds of years by Chinese potters. They copy out of a reverence for an earlier period but often just to fool the buyer. The market has many copies so buyer beware. When starting to collect ceramics, there is no shortcut to learning and authenticating pieces than to handle as many as possible. Take advantage of the large numbers of Chinese ceramics offered around the world at reputable auction houses. In many ways, auction houses are even better than museums as you can handle pieces in cabinets. In handling many pieces, you get a feel for what a ceramic should feel like in the hand, the weight of the piece, the quality of the painting.
A Ge-type mallet-form vase. Qianlong six-character seal-mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1735-1796) .
2. Ask questions
Building the knowledge needed to authenticate Chinese ceramics can take many years. Reading reference books can give a structure to the field but pick specialists’ brains and ask as many questions as possible. There is nothing that a specialist with a little time on their hands likes better than to talk about their subject.
3. Always buy what you love
Do not necessarily think of buying for investment. In that way you will never be disappointed. Try to buy the best quality example your budget will allow.
A rare seated figure of Guanyin. Ming dynasty, early 17th century
4. Familiarize yourself with the different palettes and glazes and when they were introduced
For example, the wucai (literally five-colour) palette was used in the Wanli period (1573–1619); from this palette came the famille verte palette introduced in the 17th century and the Kangxi period (1662–1722). This features a predominant green enamel together with blue, red, yellow, black. The famille rose palette was added to the ceramic painter’s repertoire in the 1720s and featured a prominent rose colour; the enamels are opaque and there is a wider repertoire of colours. In the 18th century there were many technical advances and glazes were introduced such as the copper-red glazes and flambé glazes.
A fine and very rare famille rose bowl and cover. Daoguang six character seal-mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1821-1850) .
5. Learn about the various kilns and the distinction in glazes between kiln sites
Ceramics were made all over China and kilns in the north and south produced different types of wares and glazes. For example, in the Song dynasty (960–1279) you get beautiful celadon glazed ceramics from the Longquan located in the southwest Zhejiang province, and also the Yaozhou kilns in the northern China Shaanxi province. The celadon glazes differ between these two kilns with the Longquan glaze giving often a warmer, bluish-green tone compared with the Yaozhou glazes that were more olive in tone. Jun wares in the Song dynasty were produced with beautiful lavender glazes often highlighted by abstract purple splashes. The Dehua kilns specialised in ceramics with white and cream glazes. In the late Ming dynasty in the 17th century the Dehua wares were creamy in tone.
A rare small Longquan Celadon ‘bamboo’ vase, Xianwenping. Southern Song-yuan dynasty, 12th-14th century .
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