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Chinese stoneware: a journey through history and techniques

Updated: Apr 3

Chinese stoneware, also known as "cí" (瓷, cí) in Chinese, is a dense, vitrified ceramic produced by firing at high temperatures (between 1200 and 1400°C). It first appeared during the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), the result of a gradual evolution in pottery techniques. Its unique composition, combining clay with fusible feldspathic materials, gives it its characteristic properties: great hardness, resistance to water and a smooth, sometimes translucent surface.



Stoneware Guan jar, China, Ming period, 15th century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for 8500 euros, photo credits: Yann Girault


In China, the term "cí" encompasses both stoneware and porcelain, which can be confusing for Westerners. The distinction between these two types of ceramic is less clear-cut in China, as they have evolved continuously from the earliest terracottas to the finest porcelains.


Among the most famous Chinese stoneware is celadon, recognisable by its green glaze reminiscent of jade. This ceramic first appeared in the Han period and was perfected over the centuries, reaching its apogee during the Song dynasty. Celadons were used for both everyday tableware and refined objets d'art, and their fame spread far beyond China's borders.


Bowl with dragons among waves, stoneware with carved and incised decoration under celadon glaze, China, 10th century, kept at the MET in New-York.

Longquan stoneware, also known as "Longquan celadon", is a type of Chinese ceramic from the town of Longquan in Zhejiang province. Famous for its blue-green celadon glaze, it is considered one of the most important types of Chinese stoneware and has been exported around the world since the Song period. It was particularly popular in Europe and the Middle East, where it was considered a luxury item.



Dish, stoneware and celadon glaze, Longquan kilns, China, export ceramic, 16th century, kept at the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in Paris


Cizhou sandstone (Chinese: 慈州; pinyin: cízhōu), native to northern China, is distinguished by its grey or buff colour and its often painted, incised or engraved decoration. The techniques used to create these decorations were varied, giving rise to motifs of great richness and expressiveness. Cizhou stoneware was appreciated for its rustic appearance and affordable price, making it a popular choice among the less affluent social classes.


Cizhou double gourd vase, China, 14th century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for 2800 euros, photo credits: Yann Girault

Yixing stoneware is a type of Chinese stoneware famous for its purple clay. Originally from the town of Yixing in Jiangsu province, it has been used for centuries to make teapots and other objects. The special feature of Yixing stoneware is its porosity. This property allows the teapot to absorb the flavours of the tea over time, giving each infusion a unique and complex flavour. What's more, the violet clay retains heat well, so the tea stays hot for a long time.



Yixing stoneware teapot, 20th century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Couteau-Begarie, sold for 780 euros


Jizhou stoneware is a type of Chinese ceramic from the city of Jizhou in Hebei province. It is famous for its hand-painted designs and varied glazes, often in shades of black, brown and white. It has a long history dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1279).


Over the centuries, it has been decorated in a wide variety of styles and techniques. The most common motifs include flowers, birds, landscapes and figures. The distinctive feature of Jizhou stoneware is its spontaneity and expressiveness. The motifs are often hand-painted with quick, precise strokes, giving each piece a unique character. What's more, the glazes used are often unpredictable, which can create surprising effects.



Jizhou stoneware bowl, China, Song period (960 - 1279), appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for €3,000, photo credits: Yann Girault

Chinese stoneware has played an important role in Chinese culture and has influenced the art of ceramics throughout the world. Its production and development have left their mark on Chinese history, contributing to economic prosperity and the growth of trade. Today, Chinese stoneware continues to be appreciated for its beauty, strength and variety, and is used to create both functional and decorative objects.


Today's market for Chinese stoneware at auction is thriving, and Jean Gauchet's expertise is essential to achieving the best auction results for these precious works of art. As we celebrate Chinese stoneware, we also recognise the vital role that experts such as Jean Gauchet play in preserving and promoting China's cultural heritage.



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