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Bleu de Huê: An artistic journey between China and Vietnam

Updated: Apr 3

Today, the expression "Hué Blue" sounds like an artistic enigma, revealing a complex history of exquisite porcelain decorated with underglaze cobalt blue. This name, which has become commonplace, initially evokes Hué, the prestigious former capital of Vietnam, where it was thought that these masterpieces were made. However, a captivating revelation has emerged: the Hué blues actually have their roots in China.
 

Bowl with dragon decoration, China for Vietnam, Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), cobalt blue underglaze porcelain known as "Bleu de Huê", 7 x 15 cm. Musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet, MA 12535 © RMN-Grand Palais/Thierry Ollivier.


Hué porcelain, witness to a flourishing Asian trade, embodies a history that transcends borders. The term "Hué Blue" has come to be used to describe these exceptional works of art, whose Chinese origin contrasts with Hué's emblematic location. This duality offers a unique perspective on the cultural exchanges between merchant elites and court societies over the centuries.


At the heart of this artistic category, two distinct narratives emerge. On the one hand, there are the porcelains specially commissioned by the Vietnamese court from China, featuring designs and forms imbued with Vietnamese culture. On the other hand, Chinese porcelain offered as diplomatic gifts, with the introduction of the "Trân Ngoan" mark in 1789, meaning "precious jewel" and breaking with the Chinese vertical tradition.


Imperial porcelain vase, Vietnam 18th century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for 112,000 euros, photo credits: Yann Girault


The production of Hué porcelain in blue-white is an artistic feat. The delicate cobalt decoration on the porcelain, which cannot be reversed, testifies to the exceptional talent of the artists. Firing at extreme temperatures, in excess of 1,200°C, seals in the blue decoration with a vivacity that has endured over the centuries. The history of "Bleu de Huê" porcelain dates back to the 13th century, when the Persians invented this technique, which was later imported to China by the Yuan dynasty.


The first pieces, which were small and inspired by Persian objects, were intended for export to Asia and the Middle East. However, in the 14th century, under the Ming dynasty, the technique was refined and the pieces became monumental, marking the golden age of "Bleu de Huê" porcelain. Until 1885, Vietnam was a vassal of China, allowing Vietnamese mandarins to order these precious porcelains. The Vietnamese court, in the 18th century, under the Lê dynasty, was particularly enamoured of these works, marked by Vietnamese inspirations and varied motifs borrowed from Chinese culture.



Porcelain plate, Vietnam 18th century, Appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for 78,000 euros, photo credits: Yann Girault



Today, the rising price of "Bleu de Huê" porcelain at auction attests to its worldwide appeal. Collectors, both foreign and from the Vietnamese diaspora, are playing an active part in their renewed interest. Our article will help you to differentiate between Chinese and Vietnamese porcelain.


Bleu de Huê" is not simply an artistic expression, but a window onto the rich and complex history of cultural interaction in Asia. The expertise of figures such as Jean Gauchet and renowned institutions such as Gauchet Art Asiatique in appraising and auctioning these pieces ensures that the exceptional heritage of Hué porcelain craftsmanship remains not only appreciated, but also rigorously preserved. If you own Hué porcelain, our team of experts is at your disposal to appraise your piece free of charge.




 

References :

« Le bleu de Huê, une histoire de regard », Emmanuel Lincot, 4 février 2021, La gazette Drouot, dir. Sylvain Alliod.

« Une collection réunie par un lettré des temps modernes », Anne Doridou-Heim, 15 février 2024, La gazette Drouot, dir. Sylvain Alliod.

 

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