Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

Undeniably Versatile: Living with Blue & White Ceramics

The universality, profound and lasting appeal, and decorative versatility of “blue & white” ceramics is undeniable. Through centuries and across continents, blue-decorated white- or off-white-bodied ceramics are nearly ubiquitous. This is due to a combination of reasons: available materials, certain production efficiencies, and, of course, the enduring popularity of the color combination.

Set of Three Blue and White Export Serving Dishes,
China, 18th/19th century, estimate: $300-500

Generally, antique ceramics derive from local clay and materials—many of which are light in color—from bright white to dull gray. The earliest “blue” was often made from cobalt oxide, though later on, blue pigments were produced from other, cheaper, local sources—even if cobalt oxide remained the most desirable. Cobalt oxide could withstand high-temperature firing (essential for the kaolin-based ceramics found in China). Generally, it was ground and mixed with water and applied by brush to the pottery body before applying the protective glaze and subsequent firing. That the pottery only had to be fired once was a benefit— both to the durability of the decoration (since it was under the glaze) and to the efficiency of the production.

Approximately Forty Pieces of Spode Dinnerware,
England, 19th century, estimate $300-500

For centuries, China and other Far Eastern countries produced much of the world’s blue-decorated porcelain, and it is Chinese blue & white which is the most familiar even now. Examples of Chinese porcelain made their way to Western Europe in the 15th century, and the popularity there was undeniable. In the centuries that followed, European ceramics were decorated in blue (often in a floral or foliate style derived from the Chinese). In the late 18th century and even more prolifically in the 19th century, potteries and porcelain houses the world over were making white-bodied ceramics with blue decoration.

Two Tin-glazed Blue and White Delftware Chargers and Four Plates, 18th/19th century, estimate $200-300

Throughout that time, blue & white continued to be made in China. Several now well-known patterns, including the omnipresent “Canton” were often shipped in huge volume on return trips from China by Western merchant vessels and delivered to eagerly waiting consumers throughout Europe and the United States. The popularity of these particular blue & white patterns spawned even more copycats throughout Europe (“Blue Willow” perhaps most famously), which simply increased the amount of blue & white available. By the early 19th century, potteries in Staffordshire, England, and elsewhere were in full-swing, making “transferware,” primarily in blue. They catered to specific markets, including the United States, with designs meant to celebrate American history, patriotism, and independence.

Large Staffordshire Historical Blue Transfer-decorated “Landing of Lafayette” Platter, James and Ralph Clews, Cobridge, England, c. 1824-36
Three Pieces of Canton Pattern Chinese Export Porcelain, 19th century

Even American potteries from New Jersey north to New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont, who produced thick-walled pottery referred to as “stoneware,” decorated their wares with cobalt blue, perhaps in keeping with the decorative traditions of the past. In the late 19th and well into the 20th century, American potteries continued to produce what could still be referred to as “blue & white.” Among these is Dedham Pottery in Massachusetts, which produced ceramics decorated with wide cobalt blue rims with flora and fauna and achieved a crackled glaze inspired, as was much blue & white, by the Chinese precedent.

Eight Dedham Pottery Plates, Dedham, Massachusetts

Interior designers (and these days, Instagram and Pinterest users) have long known the appeal and the versatility of blue & white—it is a pleasing combination. With its proliferation throughout the world and centuries, we at Skinner find blue & white in a huge variety of homes. Blue & white can stand out as a bold accent in some modern and minimalist homes, or can adorn mantelpieces and open cupboards as exhibited compendia in wood-paneled parlors. And it just as often gets stuffed into corner cupboards, emerging twice a year as the “fancy china.” Blue & white looks as good against oak and mahogany furniture in a low-ceilinged 18th century home as it does in a brightly lit seaside retreat on a white marble countertop. Best of all, the “look” of blue & white is affordable. While there are early and important examples of Chinese and European blue & white that bring huge sums, most blue & white is, as it has always been, an attainable and enduring product.

Virtual First Tuesday | February 2

Join us for First Tuesday online!

AUCTION EVALUATION DAY | TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2

See what hidden treasures our experts may be able to reveal

We invite you to join us online for our Virtual First Tuesday on February 2. Submit your items anytime before the 2nd and Skinner specialists from all departments will be on hand on Tuesday to evaluate items and respond by email.

Let’s get started: 

Step 1: Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches, coins and much more.Read More

How to Look for a Painting’s Condition

Robin Starr, Director of American & European Works of Art  shows us how to look at a canvas, explaining condition issues such as craquelure, retouch, relining, and how a UV light can help uncover repairs hidden to the naked eye.

Interested in Fine Art? View upcoming auctions of American & European Fine Paintings & Sculpture and Fine Prints & Photographs now open for bidding. 

VIEW WORKS ON OFFER

Read More

Beverly Bernson: Ahead of Her Time | Zoom Event

ONLINE EVENT | FRIDAY, JANUARY 15 AT 6PM

Join Beverly Bernson collector and advocate for self-taught artists and Karen Keane, CEO of Skinner for a lively conversation. Learn about Beverly’s 60 year career in the artworld from student to savvy collector. Beverly will share her stories about the art and artists she loves. Questions and answers to follow.

Self-Taught Artists: The Beverly Bernson Collection auction will be on offer from January 12-25.… Read More

5 of the Best – 2020 Auction Highlights

Here are some top lots in the categories of fine art, jewelry, watches, Asian art, and Americana from 2020 that gave a jolt of excitement and wildly exceeded expectations in a year that saw major auctions go virtual.

Chinese Blue and White Lotus-mouth Bottle Vase, sold for: $1,272,500

Elegantly formed, with an elongated pear-shaped body, allover lotus scroll design executed in “heap and pile” style, animal masks applied to the shoulder and six-character Yongzheng mark in underglaze blue in a double ring to the base, the ht.… Read More

Pandemic Pastimes: Binge-watching Favorite Shows

Like many of you right now, I’ve spent the last few months retreating into comforts—comfort food, comfort clothes, and comfort TV. And nothing is more comforting than re-watching your favorites, the shows and movies you’ve seen hundreds of times and can recite line by line. After watching the much anticipated season 4 of The Crown (whether you liked this season or not, Gillian Anderson was INCREDIBLE), I found myself going back to seasons 1 and 2 again.  

The Queen’s jewelry reproductions were amazingly accurate, something I found lacking in seasons 3 and 4.… Read More

Virtual First Tuesday | January 5

Join us for First Tuesday online!

AUCTION EVALUATION DAY | TUESDAY, JANUARY 5

See what hidden treasures our experts may be able to reveal

We invite you to join us online for our Virtual First Tuesday on January 5. Submit your items anytime before the 5th and Skinner specialists from all departments will be on hand on Tuesday to evaluate items and respond by email.

Let’s get started: 

Step 1: Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches, coins and much more.Read More

January Regional Consignment Days | Maine & Westchester

We invite you to join us online for regional consignment days in Maine and Westchester, New York. Skinner specialists look forward to evaluating items via email, and beginning the conversation about the advantages of selling at auction.

Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches & coins and much more. Send an email with the information and images at newyork@skinnerinc.com, maine@skinnerinc.com or at the buttons below.… Read More

Pandemic Picks: Skinner Appraisers and Staff Share Books, Films, and Audio

More than ever, books, films, and spoken word are sources of inspiration and enlightenment; they serve as connectors to humanity, bellwethers of our time, and glorious refuge. We asked Skinner appraisers and staff to share what they have been reading, watching, and listening to in 2020, choices that resonated, provided a new experience, escape, or reflection. What is more welcome as we look back on 2020, and ahead to a bright and hopeful 2021.… Read More

Selections from An Important Bordeaux Collection

While each lot in An Important Bordeaux Collection is remarkable in their own right, here are a few selections that should not be missed.

Chateau Latour 1966 (5 bottles)

For a vintage largely overlooked, “[T]he 1966 Latour remains an exemplar of the vintage, certainly one of the best, if not the best Left Bank wine of the vintage,” (N. Martin for TWA, 96 pts. 10/16). In fact, 1966 was rated four stars in Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine who wrote “[O]ne of my favourite vintages which I have always described as a lean, long distance runner,” with the Latour as “the slowest maturing of all the ‘66s” and “a flavoury, beautifully textured wine, with time in hand.” (10/00)

Lot 1019, Estimate: $1,800-3,000.… Read More

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