Building on the forms and techniques of ceramic production of the Ming dynasty and preceding what is considered the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics production, the Yongzheng period, the Kangxi period (1661-1722), is a landmark in the chronology of Chinese ceramics.
Chinese porcelain collectors and connoisseurs consider Kangxi ceramics to have the most variation—artistic expression combined with impressive techniques. Perhaps you are curious how to identify antique Chinese porcelain or are considering starting or adding to a collection. Illustrated here are examples of porcelain from recent Skinner auctions that exhibit some characteristics to look for that are distinct to the delightful pieces made during, and in the style of, this reign.
Imperial Kangxi ceramics are designated by a six-character kaishu mark, enclosed within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Examples of Chinese porcelain with genuine Imperial marks are the most desirable. However, collectors have recognized Kangxi ceramics produced for everyday use in recent years. Examples are often unmarked, use an underglaze double blue ring without text, or incorporate a pictogram such as an Artemesia leaf or lingzhi fungus.
Several new forms emerged during the Kangxi period, including:
The Liuyeping, or willow leaf vase, with a slender, amphora-like silhouette.
The Taibai zun, or beehive-form water coupe.
The Bangchiuping, rouleau-form vase with an evenly cylindrical body.
The Fangweizun, or phoenix tail vase, sometimes known as a yen-yen vase, with a widely flared mouth rim.
During this period, the restrictions imposed on kilns by the government were comparatively loose, and demand created an increase in the supply of fine ceramics. Hence, artisans had some freedom to experiment more with innovative forms and motifs. Flora and fauna, court scenes, garden scenes, immortals, historical battle scenes, and even horses adorn Kangxi ceramics.
Blue and White – The triumph of the Ming dynasty, blue and white porcelain was refined and expanded during the Kangxi period. Late 17th and early 18th century Chinese blue and white porcelain pieces are distinguished by a bright, pure white bisque body and glaze, and a “sapphire” blue underglaze that flowed more freely and allowed for a smooth gradient effect in contrast to earlier Ming wares.
Famille Verte – Expanding and following on from the Wucai (five color) palette pioneered in the Ming dynasty, the white porcelain body was decorated with a palette of green, red, yellow, blue, aubergine, and sometimes black enamels to become what is known as Famille Verte. Like blue and white ceramics, these wares were popular and widely produced, and as a result, are regularly found and brought to the market. When a period piece of Famille Verte porcelain is rotated in bright light, slight iridescence should be visible over the green and blue glazes.
Famille Noire – Replacing the white background of Famille Verte porcelains gave rise to what is described as Famille Noire, and often combined with prunus blossoms or densely packed floral designs. The combination of glazes that give it the black color has an iridescent, layered quality, with a hint of metallic green. It is quite rare to find an example from the Kangxi period that has not had the black color added later- what is sometimes known as “clobbered.”
Monochrome glazes – Innovations in coloration techniques led to the production and perfection of some of the most iconic Chinese monochrome porcelain glazes. These include Sang de boeuf (oxblood), powder blue, which when viewed from a distance looks like solid cobalt blue, but should have a speckled, almost airbrushed look under close inspection, and peachbloom, which should have a fine, even glaze of pink and green tones suffused with pink and green speckles.
An undercut or stepped foot rim is a defining characteristic of Kangxi porcelain. The rim is smaller than the ceramic base and pulled back from the edge, unglazed but finely potted. This design allowed a vessel to fit precisely into a wood stand in a way that would not obscure the glazed rim of the base.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kangxi forms, decorations, and color palettes were vastly popular in the West. Examples in these styles were made in great quantity for export during this period. Although not period originals, examples have many charming features and have become an area that is steadily rising in value as the older period pieces become more scarce in the market.
Do you think you may have a Chinese ceramic gracing your living room or even hidden away in your attic that combines some of these characteristics or looks similar to any illustrated examples? In that case, you may well have a Kangxi or Kangxi-inspired piece. Our Asian Works of Art department has a proven track record in the auction and appraisal of porcelains from China. Contact us for an auction evaluation to find out the current market value of your Chinese porcelain.
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