Republican Era Porcelain

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Chorley’s forthcoming sale, Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st March, offers an important private collection of Republican-era porcelain.  The highlight will be a set of four rectangular porcelain plaques by Bi Botao (1885-1961) representing the four seasons.  Bi Botao was a member of the well-known group ‘The Eight Friends of Zhushan’.  The group comprised the best porcelain artists of the period and revitalised the Chinese porcelain industry after the political unrest in 19th Century China and the subsequent fall of the Qing dynasty.  The plaques, which are delicately painted with frogs, a spider, turtles and a snake respectively, ask £18,000-22,000 and were acquired from Peter Wain’s ‘Millenium List’ 1999.

The Peter Wain provenance is particularly important as it was he that brought Republican porcelain to the attention of the West.  His great-grandfather was a potter in Stoke on Trent and Wain himself worked at the Royal Doulton factory during his holidays as a student.  During his army service he was based in Hong Kong from 1968-1971 and it was here that his love of history and of ceramics led him to his vocation.  This was the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and he was able to buy 20th century pieces including ceramics, paintings and posters.

On leaving the army he became a dealer in Oriental porcelain. He initially purchased Republican era wares cheaply on America’s west coast where much was available owing to waves of emigration from China after the Japanese invasion.  The items purchased in America formed the basis of his first exhibition at Olympia in 1990.  The market was limited but enough people expressed an interest in them to persuade him that he should pursue this line.  

Drawing on this encouragement, Wain began sourcing items for his 1993 exhibition ‘Heavenly Pieces’ and undertook his first buying trip to China.  ‘Heavenly Pieces’ turned out to be a huge success – it sold out.  The present sale includes items from this exhibition including a pair of Meiping vases, circa 1920, decorated prunus blossom in bold enamels in the Yongzheng Imperial style.  The inscribed poem refers to immortality ‘One Thousand Autumns’ supposedly conferred by peaches and linghzi, estimate £6,000-8,000.  

After the success of this exhibition numerous buying trips were made; with challenging economic circumstances in China it was possible to buy important pieces without difficulty.  Several such trips preceded the 1998 exhibition ‘Awaiting Spring’ which focused on Qianjiang art on Chinese porcelain. Several items from that exhibition are on offer in our March sale including a pair of square section vases by Zhang Yun (Zhang Ziying) dated 1898 and painted with coordinated landscapes, these ask £800-1200.

Wain believed that the age of a piece or fashion should not impact on our appreciation of the best quality pots.   He acted as agent to the Chinese potter Zlai Xaio Xiang, who undertook porcelain painting demonstrations at his Olympia and NEC fair stands.  One such demonstration piece dating to 1997 is a brush pot decorated with red crested cranes, estimate £3,000-5,000.

The growth in the market for Republican porcelain was driven entirely by Peter Wain and with the rise in prices they have now begun to be copied – previously only a problem with earlier Chinese porcelain.  This sale provides collectors with a rare opportunity to buy pieces sourced by Peter Wain and therefore of sound provenance.

All figures provided above are the auctioneers estimates and the final sale price will attract buyer’s premium (24% incl VAT) on top of the hammer price.  Other charges may also apply.  See www.chorleys.com for details.

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