More than 100 pieces of fine Yixing ware, dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties to the 20th century will be on show at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware from tomorrow (July 11) until May 17, 2010.
The exhibition, “The Artistry of Yixing Pottery: The K.S. Lo Collection of the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware”, also featuring stationery accessories, snuff bottles, potter pillows and small ornaments, shows the diversity of purple clay art.
Purple clay is the common name for the clay material excavated from the mountains of Yixing. Yixing, also known as Jingxi and Yangxian, is known as the Pottery Capital of China. Situated at the western end of Lake Tai, the small county in Jiangsu province has been famous for its production of purple clay wares for several centuries. The clay is fine grained and highly malleable. It contains a very high iron content of more than 9% and has remarkable plasticity, which is perfect for minute, precise modelling of tea wares.
Purple clay ware, which dates back to the Song dynasty (960-1279), was very popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Since the middle period of the Ming dynasty, purple clay ware making has gradually become a form of art combining pottery making, poetry writing, calligraphy, drawing, seal carving and sculpture. Verses praising purple clay ware can be found in the works of famous poets Mei Yaochen and Ouyang Xiu of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), indicating that purple clay teapots started to be popular at that time. In 1976, a dragon kiln site of the Song dynasty was found on Yanghiao Hill of Dingshu Town in Yixing, and many fragments of broken purple clay teapots were unearthed. Both the relics uncovered during the archeological excavations and the literature serve as evidence for the history of purple clay ware.
Purple clay ware gained prevalence and matured in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). There were many renowned artisans of this period. Since the appearance of the “Gong Chun Tree Burl Teapot”, purple clay ware makers like Dong Han, Zhao Liang, Yuan Chang and Shi Peng, known as the Four Great Masters, rose to fame and won wide recognition. Shi Peng’s son Shi Da-bin was said to be an apprentice of Gong Chun. Initially Shi Da-bin merely modelled after Gong Chun and focused on making large teapots. Later, inspired by his acquaintance with contemporary literati, he broke away from the confines of his teacher’s style and began making small teapots. Among the exhibits there is a “Teapot of Monk Cap Shape with Lotus Crown” and inscription of Shi Da-bin. This uniquely shaped piece of work is quintessentially brilliant craftsmanship, vividly manifesting the master’s individual style.
In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), purple clay ware making was elevated to a higher level. One famous Qing potter was Chen Ming-yuan from the Kangxi reign (1662-1722). He excelled in refined relief and ornate detail, as displayed by his representative work “Teapot of Flower Shape with Eight Lobed Body”. Chen’s purple clay vessels earned high acclaim both in China and overseas. There was a saying in Beijing at the time that “works by Ming-yuan were in great demand overseas”, while the “Pictorial Study of Yangxian Teapots” rated Chen’s works as being “sought after by scholars and intellectuals”.
During the Jiaqing reign in the Qing Dynasty (1796-1820), another craft master emerged. Yang Peng-nian was a maker of elegant and delicate teapots. He did not use mould but fabricated vessels in causal ways. This approach resulted in works of great natural charm that were highly praised by art circles. Appreciating Yang’s talent, county magistrate Chen Man-sheng came to Yixing to produce teapots with him. Chen designed 18 styles of archaize teapots for Yang to handcraft. These teapots were engraved with calligraphy or paintings with a bamboo knife while the moulded clay was half dry. With the finished products bearing the inscription “Amantuo Shi”, these teapots are known as Man Sheng Teapots. They have always been highly rated by connoisseurs and the “Teapot of Gourd Shape” on display is one fine example.
Shao Da-heng was another great artisan in the Daoguang-Xianfeng reign (1821-1861). He became famous while still a young man. While Yang Peng-nian was famous for his delicate skill, Shao Da-heng impressed the world with his untutored talent and natural style. One of his works that have been passed down through the centuries is the “Teapot with Fish Metamorphosing into Dragon Decoration”, which is one of the star exhibits in the show. This teapot is generally mauve in colour with a carp and a dragon half hidden in clouds and water. The whole composition is sophisticated and refined. The flexible dragon’s head on the lid is a pleasant surprise as the head can be made to stick out when pouring water. It is a cleverly made vessel with classic antique flavour.
In addition to masterpieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties, also on display at this exhibition are teapots by famous artists of the 20th century, including Gu Jingzhou, Jiang Rong, Xu Xiutang and Wang Yinxian. To ensure visitors of all ages can enjoy the purple clay art, an education corner has been set up inside the gallery to illustrate the functions of various vessels through interactive games and interesting wall graphics. An educational pamphlet is also available.
The Museum of Tea Ware is located at 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong (inside Hong Kong Park). It opens from 10 am to 5 pm daily and closes on Tuesdays. Admission is free.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of Art's website http://hk.art.museum. or call 2869 0690.
Ends/Friday, July 10, 2009
Yixing purple clay is fine-grained and highly malleable which enables the making of a kaleidoscope of shapes in teapots. This teapot in the shape of Buddha's hand citron is a naturalistic ware which was modelled after motifs from nature such as tree trunks and plant and animal forms.
Geometric ware is derived from spheres and cubes or other geometric forms. This category is the most popular shape in the design of Yixing teapots. Spheres and cubes are the two major groups among the geometric forms. This teapot with engraved bamboo decoration is a cubical ware.
Shao Da-heng was a great artisan in the Daoguang-Xianfeng reign (1821-1861) of the Qing dynasty. Pictured is one of his works "Teapot with Fish Metamorphosing into Dragon Decoration" which has been passed down through the centuries. This teapot is generally mauve in colour with a carp and a dragon half hidden in clouds and water. The whole composition is sophisticated and refined. The flexible dragon's head on the lid is a pleasant surprise as the head can be made to stick out when pouring water. It is a cleverly made vessel with classic antique flavour.
During the Jiaqing reign in the Qing Dynasty (1796-1820), Yang Peng-nian was a craft maker of elegant and delicate teapots. He did not use mould but fabricated vessels in causal ways. This approach resulted in works of great natural charm that were highly praised by art circles. This teapot with engraved bamboo decoration on the cover is one of his works.