Unsurpassed by numerous imitators, the ceramic traditions of China – and of porcelain in particular – occupy the high ground of world ceramics. China was the first nation to develop a translucent white ceramic material in Europe, dubbed porcelain. After its long gestation it emerged during the Tang Dynasty (705-907 AD) and in the centuries that followed it became one of the first globally traded, man-made luxury commodities, its forms and surface decoration influencing the ceramic traditions of countless states throughout Asia and Europe. Not until 1710 was the European equivalent of hard-paste Chinese porcelain achieved at Meissen.
The collecting history of Chinese ceramics in Britain stretches back to the time of Elizabeth I, the tempo increasing by the accession in 1689 of William and Mary, reaching a climax in the 18th century. Then followed the hiatus of the Napoleonic Wars, the decline of the East India Company, the Opium Wars and the simultaneous demise of Imperial China. For a while the supply of and taste for China’s luxuries faltered. But from the middle of the 1800s, with the rising prosperity of the British middle classes - and the new supply of trophies following the sacking of the Summer Palace - the fever for Asian art resumed, further boosted by the opening up of trade with Japan. Rather than pursuing contemporary wares (as in the previous centuries), collectors were now on the hunt for antique ceramics.
The extraordinary legacy of those 19th and 20th century collectors can today be seen in both of London’s great museums. To place ceramics into their historical context, the morning begins at the V&A with a general introduction to Chinese art in the Tsui Gallery. The Qing Dynasty rooms further exemplify European interest in Chinese material culture during the latter half of the Victorian era and into the 20th century.
The fruits and legacy of a new connoisseurship emerging in the early 20th century are explored at the British Museum. The jewel in the crown of the museum’s many treasures is the Percival David Collection, internationally regarded as the most important private collection of its kind outside China’s own imperial holdings in Beijing and Taiwan’s National Palace Museum.
Dr Lars Tharp
A specialist in ceramics who appears regularly on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. He was Director of the Foundling Museum and is now its Hogarth Curator as well as vice-chairman of The Hogarth Trust. He is a liveryman on the court of England’s oldest guild, The Worshipful Company of Weavers and is a member of the English Ceramics Circle, the Oriental Ceramics Society and a Fellow of the venerable Society of Antiquaries of London.
10.15am, at The Victoria and Albert Museum.
5.10pm, at the British Museum.
£215. This includes lunch, mid-morning and mid-afternoon refreshments at William Morris room, V&A.
Maximum 14 participants.
We will return the full amount if you notify us 22 or more days before the event. We will retain 50% if cancellation is made within three weeks and 100% if within three days. Please put your cancellation in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. We advise taking out insurance in case of cancellation and recommend that overseas clients are also covered for possible medical and repatriation costs.
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