Subject:Original works, the Palace Museum, embroidery, porcelain
Posted By: beadiste Tue, Aug 11, 2015
Accounts of the revival of Chinese cloisonne in the 1950s tell of coordination with scholars of other arts - embroidery, porcelain - and of young art school graduates assigned to work with old craftsmen. Remember that apsaras cloisonne plate from a prior thread? Qian Meihua started out as a student of textile arts, and relates being thrilled by an exhibit of Silk Road embroideries. Also the thread about the workers' tools plate with the inscription stating a porcelain expert was the designer, with the design of the plate back matching another plate by the same designer in porcelain.
Qian Meihua's biography tells how she spent nearly 3 years copying patterns in the cloisonne storage room of the Palace Museum, locked in from morning til night for security, sweltering in summer, and so cold in winter that her brush was as hard as a fruit pit. I'm guessing one learns a great deal about historic patterns from an experience like that. A prior thread also discussed a Palace Museum QianLong bottle design copied by Jin Shiquan, whose biography also describes his visits to the museum to learn how to do a better, more traditional dragon than the stereotype popular in the earlier decades of the 20th century.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Chinese cloisonne artists beginning in the 1950s were no slouches when it came to artistry and innovation, with Liberation providing the ax that destroyed the old master/apprentice workshop system. The Beijing Enamel Factory evolved from a rugged experimental workshop to a high tech operation, developing a huge pallet of enamel colors compared to the 11 or so of prior times, gas furnaces instead of coal, wiring techniques to bend up to a dozen identical wire motifs at once, a staff of artists to draw and color designs, etc etc. Their wares were, and continue to be, a mix of traditional designs, new designs combining traditional motifs, completely original works with modern stylings, and reproductions of Ming and Qing pieces. The body of skills is extraordinary.
In other words, it is entirely possible that a handsome piece is entirely original, very well made, and not a product of former centuries.
And these handsome original works are copied relentlessly by smaller shops. I've given up counting examples of Zhang Lu's Butterfly Vase and Steel Vase appearing in online auctions, none of them ever, ever attributed to him, all claiming provenance from the 19th century or earlier. It's ridiculous.
As an example, I own an actual knock-off of Zhang Lu's wild and dramatic vase inspired by neolithic YangShao pottery motifs. It's not nearly as crisp, neat, and gilded as Zhang Lu's original, but totally worth the modest price I paid for it after someone rescued it from an estate sale.
So there is no need to invoke some mysterious Taiwan replicant atelier, the Beijing workshops were and are entirely capable of producing replicas of not only Ming and Qing pieces that have been published in auction catalogs and books, but of notable works by contemporary cloisonne artists.