For centuries, China held-tight the secrets of sophisticated ceramics-making—and they weren't about to share them with prying Westerners (who were enchanted with these beautiful and "exotic" works of art). Amazingly, the Chinese achieved remarkable effects with fairly low-tech equipment: brick or mud hut kilns with little windows and doors through which fuel wood, heat and air could be added or released. No gas, no gauges (like thermometers). Ceramics-making is an art form which succeeds or fails with the tiniest changes in material, temperature and time. And, if a ceramicist wishes to replicate an effect, she better know (and have written down!) the precise glaze ingredients, firing time and temperatures used at various points in the process.
Form is rather easy to "steal"—and Western ceramicists certainly did copy the classic Asian shapes. But glazing is where the mystery resides. And glazing recipes are, shall we say, "inscrutable."
Fortunes were made by Englishmen who sailed to China, filled their holds with ceramics, and sailed back to England—where collectors would line their London sitting rooms with the precious cargo. But English artists were not about to let the importers get all the customers. Starting in the Eighteenth Century, Western ceramicists started copying—and adapting—the wares imported from the East. Some customers bought the British works because they could not afford the real Oriental ceramics. But others collected the European pieces because they liked the new style of such "Orientalist" pieces—pieces which clearly were inspired by Asia but were different, "filtered" as they were through a Western artist's aesthetic creativity.
The vase above was made by Pilkington, Royal Lancastrian. It has the unmistakable silhouette of a classic Chinese vase. But the mottled "Uranium" glaze is an adaptation of a more traditional Persimmon glaze which one would expect from a true Asian piece. For the time being, it is in my personal collection. Please contact me through the "Contact Us" link with any questions you may have.
LEO Design's Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed. While we contemplate our next shop location, please visit our on-line store which continues to operate (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
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