The Richard Kan vase. A blue and white meiping, Yuan dynasty. © RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier.
PARIS.- This piece, long held in the collections of a great French family, has been given, through a single donation, to the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts (MNAAG: Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet) by the Hong Kong philanthropist and major collector of fine objects of art Richard Kan, thanks to the policy support from the Society of Friends of the Guimet Museum (Société des Amis du Musée Guimet).
The quality of this large, richly decorated porcelain meiping vase, painted with cobalt pigment on a white background, leaves no doubt that it was produced as a top-quality piece. It can be attributed to the Yuan period (1279 -1368). However, during this period, the reignmarks of the emperors (who were of Mongol and therefore non-Chinese ethnicity) did not appear on porcelains, such as the ‘Shufu’ ware. This vase, which can be dated to the 1350s, is a fine example of early Chinese blue and white porcelain and a valuable addition to a small but high-quality ensemble in the Guimet Museum’s collections.
Strictly speaking, blue and white decoration was introduced in China in the Tang dynasty, as evidenced by the Tang dynasty Belitung shipwreck in South China Sea, thanks to the use of exceptional cobalt ore from Iran. A major technological innovation, blue and white porcelain, which was fired at a high temperature of 1250 degrees Celsius or above, allowed no corrections to the painted design. It was a luxurious novelty. The decoration on the vase is characterised by highly skilful work and the mixing of a Chinese repertoire (phoenix and lotus flower images) with an Islamic-inspired compartmental design. At this time, a cadet branch of the Mongol descendants of Genghis Khan reigned over Iran, facilitating artistic and technical exchange. The appearance of other phoenixes on Yuan meipings can be cited from Wuhan and the Gaoan hoard but nowhere else. There are no similar vases in France’s national collections. It is a remarkable work, in terms of both its size and the excellent quality of its decoration, which plays with the varying intensity of the cobalt blue pigment.
This piece, which is representative of art from the time of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) had been kept since the 19th century in a major French collection. With support from the Society of Friends of the Guimet Museum (Société des Amis du Musée Guimet), the work is becoming part of the national collections, thanks to the generosity of the great Hong Kong patron and philanthropist Richard Kan, whose extensive collection of Chinese imperial monochrome porcelains was shown at an exhibition at the Baur Foundation (Geneva) in 2018. He is possibly today’s representative world-class collector of monochromes after such names as the deceased Ernest Grandidier, Alfred Baur and E.T. Hall.
The Richard Kan vase will be displayed on the 2nd floor of the Chinese collections, in the Ernest Grandidier porcelain room. Here, it joins a jewel in the Guimet Museum’s collections: the meiping vase decorated with a white dragon, which is also from the Yuan period.