Blanc de Chine

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What is Blanc de Chine?

Literally, French for “white from China,” Blanc de Chine is a term used for all sorts of white, translucent porcelain objects.

Traditionally, however, Blanc de Chine referred to a specific type of porcelain made for centuries in Dehua (also known as Dehua porcelain) in the Fujian province of China.  Produced since the Song dynasty (960-1279), peak production was reached between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Historic Characteristics

  1. The Dehua clay used to make traditional Blanc de Chine is notable for containing a small amount of iron oxide.  This results in the unusually pure color found in true Blanc de Chine.

Dehua Fu, or Foo, dogs. A proper pair of fu dogs are actually lions with one playing with a brocade ball and the other, playing with a cub.

Dehua Fu, or Foo, dogs. A proper pair of fu dogs are actually lions with one playing with a brocade ball and the other, playing with a cub.

2. Devotional objects, such as figurines and incense burners, are the most common forms of Dehua porcelain.   The Goddess of Mercy or “Guanyin” is especially noteworthy.

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3. Urns, vases, cups and bowls, among other forms, also were produced.

4. True Dehua porcelain is made form a mold, not on a potter’s wheel, and often features incised or applied ornament.

5. A shiny, almost wet, looking glaze is melded onto the porcelain.

6. Some Dehua artisans signed their wares with their seals such as He Chaozong from the late Ming period (Ming Dynasty 1368-1644).

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Today

Like almost all Chinese porcelain, Blanc de Chine from Dehua is very difficult to date.  Chinese factories still produce it today, both in traditional and modern forms.

Additionally, Blanc de Chine porcelain has been widely copied in Europe by companies like Meissen and others, and in Japan.   Many traditional figurines and vases have been converted into lamps, or manufactured originally as such.

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Oddly enough, one type of lamp regularly referred to as ‘Blanc de Chine”  was originally made in Japan by companies like Seyei China.  Google “Blanc de Chine lamp” and you will surely find it.  It is defined by a pierced body  frequently adorned with a stylized plum blossom design.

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So, if we are getting technical about it, this style of lamp should be referred to as “Blanc de Japon,” not “Blanc de Chine.”

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Today, given such widespread manufacturing  and popularity (and despite protests by connoisseurs who would be after the true Dehua porcelain), Blanc de Chine commonly describes  any white, translucent porcelain.

Lovely European white porcelain in the Blanc de Chine style.

Lovely European white porcelain in the Blanc de Chine style.

Coming next on Design Dictionary….. Do you know the name of the lamp in the first photo and how to pronounce it?

Photo credits: First photo by Valentin Sutcliffe found on his Instagram.   Foo dogs from Christies.  Guanyin from Christies.  Collage, vase from Skinners, plate and bowl from Bonhams, jar from Alain Truong.  Reticulated lamp from One Kings Lane.  Lamp on desk.  Tabletop