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Christie’s offers crash course in Chinese ceramics

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Global auction house Christie’s provides tips for the nervous:

When it comes to bidding on Chinese ceramics, many collectors tend to become confused by issues such as reign marks, firing flaws, palettes, glazes and different kilns. The global auction house Christie’s provides tips for the nervous:

* Handle as many pieces as possible:

Chinese ceramics have been copied for centuries by Chinese potters out of reverence for earlier periods, but also to fool buyers – so buyers beware. There is no quicker way to learn about pieces other than to handle as many as possible.

* Ask questions:

Reading reference books can give a structure to the field, but pick specialists’ brains and ask as many questions as possible.

* Familiarise yourself with the different palettes and glazes and when they were introduced:

For example, the wucai palette was used in the Wanli period (1573-1619). From this palette came the famille verte palette, introduced in the 17th century, and the Kangxi period (1662-1722). This features a predominant green enamel together with blue, red, yellow and black. The famille rose palette was added in the 1720s and featured a prominent rose colour while the enamels are opaque with a wider repertoire of colours.

* Learn about the various kilns and their distinctive glazes:

Ceramics were made all over China and kilns in the north and south produced different types of wares and glazes.

* Turn it over:

Always look at the bases of the ceramics because fakers often do not get these correct. Looking at bases can help enormously with dating and authentication.

* Familiarise yourself with changes in underglaze blue decoration from the Ming to the Qing dynasties:

This decorative element changed a lot over the course of the centuries.

* Pay attention to shapes and proportions:

A vase or bowl that looks out of proportion is an indication that a neck or mouth has been ground down.

* Consider condition:

What is an acceptable condition depends on whether or not the ceramic is Imperial quality and when it was made.

For example, on a non-Imperial porcelain vessel made in the 17th century, such as a Kraak ware charger, you would accept some kiln grit or dust to the base and perhaps a firing flaw from the kiln. However, avoid such flaws on an 18th-century imperial marks and period ceramic because the firing techniques would have been refined.

* Familiarise yourself with marks:

Reign marks state the dynasty and the name of the emperor for which an item was made, and were used on all ceramics made for the emperor and his imperial household.

The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics – The Linyushanren Collection, Part III will be staged by Christie’s in New York on March 22. See

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