Collecting Guide Mounted porcelain

Collecting Guide: Mounted porcelain

What are mounted porcelains, who made them and what should a collector look for? Specialist Will Strafford supplies the answers

1. What exactly are ‘mounted porcelains’?

The term ‘mounted porcelains’ refers to pieces of porcelain — originally produced in China, Japan or Europe — which are further embellished with gilt-bronze or silver mounts of European design to create a charming marriage of East and West.

 

2. When were they first produced?

The first mounted porcelains were produced in the 16th and 17th centuries when trade was first opened with China and Japan and porcelain wares were brought back to Europe from the East. Many of these were relatively simple pieces set in precious or semi-precious metal mounts to make them more appealing to Western collectors.

 

3. What are the mounts made of?

Initially the mounts were generally produced in silver, but as the trend became more widespread from the early 18th century onward, the mounts were increasingly made of gilt bronze.


A Regence ormolu-mounted Chinese Wucai porcelain cache pot. The porcelain: 17th century; the mounts: early 18th century. Sold for $20,000 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

The vase illustrated here is a typical example with elegant mounts from the French Regence period of around 1725, using an earlier piece of Chinese porcelain from the 17th century decorated in the distinctive Wucai palette with strong reds, greens and blues. As is often the case with mounted porcelains, the vase has been cut down to adapt to the French mounts, which, ironically, reduces the value of the piece of porcelain. However, with the mounts, it is transformed into a completely new and precious object by the artistry of the gilt-bronze craftsmen. Today, this type of vase is ideal for an exotic plant such as an orchid, or to be filled with sweet-smelling dried flowers.

 

4. What type of porcelain is commonly used?

The taste for mounting porcelains was first developed using Chinese and Japanese porcelains. Thus, the colours and patterns common to them were initially adopted. Kakiemon is a popular Japanese pattern, which was first developed in the late 17th or early 18th century. These examples (below) are probably of a later date — the pierced friezes indicate they were used as perfumed potpourri vases.


A pair of Louis XV-style ormolu-mounted Japanese porcelain pot-pourri vases and covers. The porcelain 18th/19th century, the mounts second half 19th century. Sold for $12,500 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

A wide variety of Chinese porcelain of different colours and patterns was also used. Below is an example of colourful turquoise porcelain from the reign of the Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722), with mounts from around 1725.


A Regence ormolu-mounted Chinese turquoise porcelain cache pot. The porcelain: Kangxi (1662–1722); the ormolu: circa 1725. Sold for $56,250 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

The mounting of Chinese porcelain animals and figures was also popular, as with this pair of Buddhist lions that are glazed in a rich turquoise and aubergine tone.


A pair of Louis XVI ormolu-mounted Chinese turquoise and purple-glazed porcelain candelabra. The porcelain: Kangxi (1662–1722); the mounts: circa 1780. Sold for $27,500 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

 

5. Did the European porcelain factories mount their own wares?

Absolutely. As the Europeans developed their own porcelain factories that often directly imitated Chinese or Japanese porcelain, European porcelain wares were also mounted with gilt bronze. Here is an example of a pair of vases made in the Meissen factory founded by Augustus the Strong of Saxony, with porcelain clearly imitating the Japanese Kakiemon pattern.


A pair of early Louis XV ormolu-mounted Meissen porcelain cache pots. Circa 1745-49. 4 1/2 in. (11 cm.) high. Sold for $18,750 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

These mounts are stuck with a crowned ‘C’, which was a tax mark applied in France on alloys containing copper during the years 1745–1749, allowing us to date these mounts quite precisely.

The European porcelain factories also created designs which did not solely imitate Chinese or Japanese porcelain. The Meissen factory, in particular, was renowned for its naturalistic productions of birds and animals, as shown with this amusing pair of parrots; in this case, the mounts are a later addition from the 19th or 20th century.


Two ormolu-mounted Meissen porcelain models of parrots (Papagei). The porcelain: mid-18th century, blue crossed swords’ marks: the mounts of a later date. Sold for $17, 500 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

This charming clock garniture combines French porcelain flowers, probably made in a variety of factories, and porcelain animals from the Saint-Cloud factory.


A Louis XV ormolu-mounted St. Cloud porcelain clock garniture. Mid-18th century. Sold for $10,000 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

 

6. Who produced them?

The most inventive mounted porcelains in the 18th century were produced by the marchands-merciers, the luxury dealers in Paris who through the guild system had a monopoly on the importation of porcelain and lacquer wares from the East. They would sell their wares to all the elite of Paris, including Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour, who was a passionate collector.


A Louis XV ormolu-mounted Chinese and French porcelain fountain. The porcelain: Kangxi (1662–1722); The mounts: circa 1750. Sold for $12,500 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

In addition to being dealers, the marchands-merciers were also the tastemakers of their day and acted as intermediaries between their aristocratic clients and the array of skilled craftsmen who created the goods. Through their influence, these ingenious new wares and forms became the latest fashions.

 

7. What should I look for when starting a collection?

Condition is always an important consideration. The value drops if the porcelain is damaged or restored, or if the gilt-bronze mounts are harshly re-gilt or are not original.

Another factor is the rarity — and subsequent value — of the piece. The taste for mounting porcelains continued right through the 19th century and even into the 20th century. The most valuable and rarest pieces are from the 17th and 18th centuries.


A Louis XV ormolu-mounted Southeast Asian scarlet and gilt-lacquer and French and Meissen porcelain centerpiece. The Meissen porcelain: possibly second half 18th century; the central trunk and rockwork base to jardinière: probably Louis XV, mid-18th century and reused. Sold for $16,250 in The Collection of Carroll Petrie & European Decorative Arts from the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Including the Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection on 31 March 2016 at Christie’s New York

This incredible centrepiece combines some elements from the 18th century (such as the gilt-bronze tree at the centre and possibly the Meissen porcelain swans), but was largely assembled in the 20th century. Thus its value is a decorative one of $8,000–12,000 — if it was all conceived in the 18th century, as the form is so spectacular, the value would be at least five times higher.

 


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