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"Treasures From an Unknown Reign: Shunzi Porcelain"
2002-10-03 until 2003-01-05
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Dallas, TX, USA United States of America

Treasures From an Unknown Reign: Shunzi Porcelain‰, a major exhibition of 87 porcelain objects produced during the reign of Shunzhi (1644-61), a child-emperor and the first emperor of the Qing dynasty of China, will open Thursday, Oct. 3 at The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, 2010 Flora St. in the Arts District of downtown Dallas. The exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia, and is generously supported by a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

Until the 1980s, Shunzhi's reign had been neglected by scholars and researchers in China and the West. During this era, exports were greatly reduced and Imperial porcelain was not produced. However, scholarly findings and a series of exhibitions since the early 1980s, validated by the recovery of a Chinese shipwreck containing 23,000 porcelains, has now enabled scholars to accurately date porcelains to the Shunzhi Emperor‚s reign. Current scholarly research as well as Captain Hatcher's shipwreck discovery has inspired this first exhibition to describe the major evolution of porcelain painting and shapes that took place between 1644 and 1662. Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain proves that, in fact, innovative and beautiful objects were made in response to demand from the literati (scholars) and merchants on China‚s east coast. Porcelains in the exhibition have been drawn from public and private collections in England, France and the United States, including the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Victoria and Albert museum, London and the Butler Family Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of 17th-century Chinese porcelain in the world. This exhibition premiered in Honolulu at the Honolulu Academy of Arts (May 2-Sept. 8, 2002) and travels from the Crow Collection in Dallas to Charlottesville's University of Virginia Art Museum (Jan. 25-March 23, 2003).

The works in the exhibition were selected by Dr. Stephen Little, Pritzker Curator of Asian Art at The Art Institute of Chicago; Sir Michael Butler, diplomat, collector and author of 17th-century porcelain publications; and Julia B. Curtis, independent scholar of Chinese ceramics.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a major 252-page, full-color catalogue, published and distributed by Art Services International of Alexandria, Virginia.

Precisely dating mid-17th century Chinese wares, which bear no date or reign mark, as produced during the Shunzhi Emperor's reign is a scholarly challenge. The 17th century was the last period of Chinese porcelain production that remained extensively unexplored˜and the 17 years of Shunzhi's reign were the least well-known of all. While only a few porcelains were dated from the late Ming dynasty (immediately preceding Shunzhi‚s reign), and from the Kangxi era (the second Qing dynasty emperor who succeeded Shunzhi), the few interim years were uncharted. Scholars now confidently assert that the ceramics produced during Shunzi's reign are quite distinguishable from earlier and later porcelains.

The conquest of China in 1644 by the Manchus, who founded the new Qing dynasty, led to civil war and the disruption of established markets for Chinese porcelain. But the best potters and painters succeeded in finding boosted patronage among the literati (scholar-gentry) and the increasingly affluent merchants and collectors of Anhui province and the Yangzi valley. The literati had benefited from the inflation of the late-1600s, enabling them to become even more important as patrons than they had been earlier in the Ming dynasty. In addition, the falling prestige of the emperor and court, coupled with inflation, expanded the ranks of the merchant classes and encouraged them to emulate the patronage of the literati rather than to follow the Emperor‚s tastes. Thus, many objects of great beauty were made for the tastes of these new connoisseurs, designed to be looked upon as works of art.

Innovative colors, shapes and painted scenes evolved into a singular style now recognized as Shunzhi. Blue-and-white and wucai (underglaze blue and five-color enamels) porcelain predominate, and depict figures, animals, mythical beasts, plants and flowers. The Shunzhi potter-painter excelled in the development of a landscape painting type known as "master-of-the-rocks" and also depicted narrative themes based on plays, novels and folktales from Chinese history. The exhibition begins with four works from the Hatcher cargo, a 1643 Chinese shipwreck that was salvaged out of the South China Sea by Captain Michael Hatcher in the early in 1980s, containing 23,000 thousand pieces, a few of which were exactly dated to 1643 (the last year before Shunzhi became emperor.) With such a specific date provided, these works are an art historical reference point, advancing growing scholarly interest and knowledge in this period. The exhibition also includes two works dated from the mid-1660s, in order to demonstrate how the shapes of pots and the styles of painting gradually evolved from the late Ming dynasty, through Shunzhi's reign, into the subsequent Kangxi reign. Also on view will be a wide variety of rare monochromes in white, yellow, lavender and deep and light blue.

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