Skip To Content



Your privacy is important. Our Cookies Statement explains how we use cookies on this site. You can change their use at any time. You accept them by continuing to use this site. Our Privacy Statement explains how we use and protect your data.

Hidden in Plain View - The Enigma of Blanc de Chine Porcelain

Nic Saintey ponders the enigma of Blanc de Chine porcelain and concludes that while produced in huge quantities, the daily use of the ceramics fired in the Dehua kilns made this genre of porcelain almost invisible, essentially hidden in plain view.

A Blanc de Chine censer, with rare Kangxi reign marks.

A Blanc de Chine censer, with rare Kangxi reign marks.

There can be few pieces of Chinese porcelain that seem more enigmatic than Blanc de Chine, literally 'white china' - it seems the most sparse and economic of wares.

Produced in Dehua very roughly about half way between the Imperial kilns of Jingdezhen and the Cantons on the southern coast it was at its peak of popularity during the early 17th century through to the mid-18th century, although it is still being produced today.

An example of a typical granular base on Blanc de Chine.

An example of a typical granular base on Blanc de Chine.

Characteristically made with white or off-white clay, Blanc de Chine is covered with a thick clear or creamy white glaze – hardly surprising given its nomenclature. The base often has a granular sugar like appearance or more often than not has multiple small cracks and fissures suggesting that the clay had dried too quickly.

Blanc de Chine is comprised of three main groups: Sculpture, almost exclusively Taoist or Buddhist deities and mythical lion dogs; Round Wares such as vases, bowls and censers; and finally Pressed Wares for the academic's table which include seals, paste boxes, water droppers, ink stones and the like.

An example of the typical fissure on the base of Blanc de Chine.

An example of the typical fissure on the base of Blanc de Chine.

Whilst some Blanc de Chine was produced for export, much of the output from Dehua was for domestic consumption. It was, perhaps, rather too plain and discrete for European tastes and, in comparison to the favoured blue and white and enamelled wares, it was cheaper to produce.

The discrete decoration is often only visible on close inspection.

The discrete decoration is often only visible on close inspection.

During its heyday many millions of pieces of this white porcelain were produced, a large hillside kiln could hold 13,000 pieces in a single firing, which does rather raise the question as to why there are surprisingly few survivors of this ware. Where has it all gone?

A pair of Blanc de Chine figures of Guanyin.

A pair of Blanc de Chine figures of Guanyin.

One can surmise that part of the answer may have been its comparative lack of popularity for Europeans, and when it comes to the Chinese perhaps Blanc de Chine's relative cheapness meant that it was used and handled for worship and scholarly pursuits rather than displayed and revered. This daily use probably made the products of the Dehua kilns, almost invisible, hidden in plain view you might say, and also meant that they were subject to a greater degree of wear and tear.

Finally, Blanc de Chine can be problematic to date; not a great deal of it is marked and that which is can often be difficult to read, being impressed into the clay under a thick creamy glaze doesn't help. When it appears as part of a wreck cargo, such as the Vung Tao, dating is possible, however the vast majority of pieces are not marked and let's face it to the untutored eye one piece of white porcelain can look pretty much like another.

A Blanc de Chine hollow ware vase.

A Blanc de Chine hollow ware vase.

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Fine Porcelain
  • Chinese porcelain
  • Blanc de Chine
  • Dehua
  • Vung Tao

Social Bookmarks

Please click the following links to flag this article to other people on the Internet.

About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey is a Director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, with responsibility for marketing and advertising. He is also Head of the Ceramics and Glass Department.

Nic Saintey's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic in Europe, North America, East Africa and the Middle East.

He joined Lawrence’s of Crewkerne in early 1995 before moving to their Taunton branch as a general valuer and saleroom manager.

Nic joined Bearne’s in June 2000 to head up the expanding ceramic department, before joining the Board in 2003. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes.

He undertakes regular talks and contributes articles to both Devon and Cornwall Life magazines. His interests particularly include pottery in general, but especially that produced in Donyatt and North Devon, he is a keen runner and has recently taken up motor sport at a local circuit.