Enamel painted wares make a come­back

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By YAN YIQI in Hangzhou yany­iqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records, Euro­pean busi­ness­men and mis­sion­ar­ies first brought the enamel paint­ing tech­nique to China about 400 years ago. Orig­i­nally, it was only ap­plied to me­tal ware but Chi­nese crafts­men later de­vel­oped tech­niques to paint enamel on porce­lain, pur­ple clay and glass.

Like many other an­cient art forms, enamel painted wares had slowly dis­ap­peared from Chi­nese cul­ture cen­turies ago. There are only about 400 pieces of enamel painted porce­lain wares left in the world now. For enamel painted pur­ple clay teapots, there are only five on record, and they can all be found at the Taipei Palace Mu­seum.

But thanks to Li Hai­hua and a group of ex­perts, the art form has since ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival in China.

“I am a fan of porce­lain col­lec­tion and was dis­ap­pointed when an ex­pert told me that the enamel paint­ing tech­nique has rarely been used for 300 years,” said Li, the gen­eral man­ager of Wen­zhou Baocheng Trad­ing Co.

“Peo­ple can only see these wares in auc­tion houses, mu­se­ums and books. This is not a good sign for the Chi­nese peo­ple to con­tinue our tra­di­tions,” Li added.

De­ter­mined to re­vive in­ter­est in the art form, Li gath­ered porce­lain mas­ters from Jiangxi and Jiangsu prov­inces in 2003 and em­barked on an ar­du­ous jour­ney of re­search and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. The pro­ject was fully funded by Li’s com­pany.

When the group found out that enamel paint­ing was in­tro­duced to China by the French, they paid a visit to the city of Limoges in 2003 to find out more about its ori­gins. The team vis­ited the city more than 10 times be­fore they fi­nally got more than 100 enamel col­ors from a porce­lain fac­tory.

One of the team mem­bers, Huang Yun­peng, a porce­lain master from Jiangxi province, said that test­ing the use of col­ored ma­te­ri­als were time and energy con­sum­ing.

“Ex­per­i­ment­ing with the tem­per­a­tures, the mix­ture of col­ors and paint­ing were all very chal­leng­ing. We have de­stroyed at least 10,000 pur­ple clay teapots dur­ing the process,” he said.

Af­ter six years, the team fi­nally mas­tered the tech­niques of enamel paint­ing on porce­lain, pur­ple clay and even glass, con­sid­ered to be the tough­est ma­te­rial to paint on.

Li’s com­pany has al­ready started cre­at­ing prod­ucts based on these tech­niques and their prices start from only sev­eral thou­sand yuan. He said that the com­pany wants to en­sure that enamel painted wares can be easily ac­cessed by the masses.

“Most peo­ple do not have the chance to en­joy ex­quis­ite porce­lain wares as ex­pen­sive as the chicken cup auc­tioned last year, which is a pity,” he said, re­fer­ring to a small Ming dy­nasty (1368-1644), 8.2-cen­time­ter­wide tea cup that sold for $36.3 mil­lion at a Sotheby’s spring sale in Hong Kong last year. The cup set a record for be­ing the most ex­pen­sive piece of Chi­nese porce­lain ever sold in an auc­tion.

Re­cep­tion for Li’s wares has been noth­ing short of re­mark­able. In May, his com­pany brought 50 enamel painted prod­ucts to the 11th China In­ter­na­tional Cul­tural In­dus­tries Fair in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong province and all of them were quickly snapped up by a wealthy client who owns seven ho­tels and two pri­vate clubs.

“He bought 400,000 yuan ($62,512) worth of porce­lains last year, and this year, he booked all of our prod­ucts di­rectly,” Li said.

“We are con­fi­dent that with more peo­ple notic­ing enamel painted porce­lain and pur­ple clay teapots, such tech­niques will be car­ried on,” he added.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Wen­zhou Baocheng Trad­ing Co has re­vived the lost art form of enamel paint­ing, as seen on these porce­lain wares.

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