| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Chinese Export Porcelain

May 1, 2010  |  Chinese export porcelain is one of the oldest and mostvenerable areas of serious collecting. The term Chinese export refers to porcelain made and decorated in China betweenthe sixteenth and twentieth centuries specifically forthe Western market. The Chinese first exported porcelain tothe Middle East in the fourteenth century, but it was not untilPortugal established sea routes to China that this materialmade its way to Europe. Ironically, it traveled northwardfrom Portugal at the end of the sixteenth century thanksmainly to Dutch pirates, who raided the capacious, triplemastedPortuguese carracks and brought their swag back tothe Netherlands. With a nod to their plundered sources, theDutch called the wares kraak porselein and sold it to northernEuropean buyers, amongthem James I of England.The landscape and animaldesigns on the early seventeenth-century pieces reflectedChinese taste, but theChinese potters often copiedthe vessels’ shapes fromEuropean silver and pewter models. In the meantime, Chinawas able to keep the actual production techniques a secret fromthe Europeans until the early eighteenth century.

Techniques

Porcelain is essentially a refined form of earthenware, its“batter” a mixture of kaolin (called china clay) and petuntse(called china stone). Both are forms of decomposedgranite, hence porcelain’s ringing hardness. When blendedinto a claylike mass, the kaolin makes the petuntse more pliableand easier to manipulate by hand or shape on a wheel,where it can be worked into very thin-bodied vessels. Porcelainis fired in a kiln at temperatures of 1,280 degrees Celsiusand higher, the ingredients fusing into a vitreous stateranging from pure white to light gray in color. Unlikeopaque unglazed earthenware, porcelain is translucent andnonporous.The Chinese made porcelain for their own use with a varietyof richly colored monochrome glazes, but they also paintedelaborate designs in colored enamels and gold, sometimesapplied before the final glaze (underglaze painting) and sometimesafter (overglaze painting). These designs required additionalfirings at different temperatures, so a finished objectcan represent as many as three separate visits to the kiln.

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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Watercolors

December 10, 2009  |  Whether a landscape, still life, or figural composition, watercolors appeal to collectors because of their subtlety, translucence, and freshness and also because of their abundance. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, watercolor painting was not only practiced by major artists, but also by legions of trained amateurs. And some of these amateur works can be remarkably fine. In the marketplace watercolors are usually grouped with drawings and other works on paper.
Tools and techniques
Watercolors are pigments dissolved in water. The colors are either supplied as dry cakes or in tubes of pigment paste. Because watercolors run easily, especially when heavily diluted, watercolorists usually work on a drawing table or other nearly horizontal surface.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Old glass for old wine

August 26, 2009  |  Raising a glass of wine in a toast is among the oldest of dining traditions, and antique wineglasses are among the most appealing objects upon which to build a glass collection. One of the first things you discover, when investigating this field, is that antique wineglasses were often much smaller than the oversized goblets we have become accustomed to. Paintings and illustrations of drinking scenes right through the mid-nineteenth century attest to this. For one thing, servants were supposed to keep a sharp eye out for the guest who needed a refill, a frequent occurrence during the course of an eighteenth-century meal. Furthermore, when toasting one another gentlemen were often expected to drain their glasses, which would have been a far greater challenge with today's capacious vessels. According to the venerable English glass historian Sydney Lewis, whose 1916 volume Old Glass and How to Collect It is still worth reading, at the beginning of the eighteenth century "the use of different glasses for different kinds of wine had not yet arisen....A bowl of water was placed on the table in which the drinkers rinsed their glasses when a new vintage made its appearance."

The beautiful early eighteenth-century German wineglass illustrated here is an elegant survivor of those convivial days. Standing a diminutive 5 ¾ inches high, its funnel-shaped bowl---characteristic of the time-is mold-blown with a series of graceful, slightly concave panels, and further enhanced with a delicate wheel-engraved pattern of arches, balls, and swags.

Method
Eighteenth-century wineglasses normally represent the skill of three glassworkers working as a team, or "chair." First the "footmaker" placed a small lump (or "gather") of molten glass (called "metal" in glassmaking terminology) at the end of his blowpipe and blew a disk for the foot. Next, the "servitor" shaped the foot-in this case a folded foot, in which the rim was folded under to form a more durable edge. He then fashioned the stem from another molten lump of metal. Finally, the "gaffer," the most masterful of the three, fashioned the vessel itself and attached it to the stem. For this glass, the gaffer would have blown his lump of metal into a tapered mold to form the paneled bowl.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Early photographs: Daguerreotypes

June 24, 2009  |  The striking portrait on the right, offered by Dennis A. Waters Fine Daguerreotypes, of Exeter, New Hampshire, is of one R. F. Jameson, who was a month short of his twentieth birthday when he sat before an unknown daguerreotypist's camera in Montrose, Pennsylvania, in October 1846. We know nothing more about him, but his image certainly grabs you. First there are the captivating eyes (the liveliness of the eyes is characteristic of most daguerreotype portraits). Then there is the startling clarity of the determined face, which, framed by long hair, seems remarkably modern, not to mention lifelike, thanks also to the superb hand-tinting. Indeed, this exceptional clarity is part of the daguerreotype's hypnotic appeal. "As a professional photographer, I have to say that Daguerre's invention achieved a sharpness that has never been surpassed in photographic history," Waters says.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Old master and nineteenth century drawings

April 29, 2009  |  Executed in a variety of mediums—pen and ink, graphite, chalk, crayon, ink wash—many drawings are preliminary studies for finished paintings or other works, including sculpture, architecture, decorative objects, and stage design. As such, they often convey the excitement of a work in progress, and this is even more palpable when the finished work is known and extant. Moreover, unlike an artist's paintings, drawings are usually much more affordable, although big names still carry big price tags. It pays to scout the byways of the drawings market for more affordable treasures by lesser known artists.

That is exactly what one knowledgeable collector did. Julius Held (1905-2003), a revered art historian at Barnard College, was an authority on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art, and the author of important books on Rembrandt and Rubens. Collecting on a professor's salary made him resourceful; he had to judge drawings on their artistic merits, relying on his aesthetic instincts and his vast knowledge to acquire satisfying works.

Let us look at two fine drawings from the Held collection that sold at Christie's New York on January 27 and January 30, respectively. Both were priced with auction estimates well under $5,000 because their artists, though famous in their lifetimes, are not household names today: Latona Turning the Lycian Peasants into Frogs by the Bolognese painter Marcantonio Franceschini (Fig. 1), and a stage design reputedly for Vincenzo Bellini's opera La Straniera attributed to the nineteenth-century Italian stage designer Alessandro Sanquirico (Fig. 2).
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NYG 2013

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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