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History revealed in tea ware

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The art and trade of tea ware

Catch a glimpse of China trade history and its impact on tea ware design in the 18th and 19th centuries in a special exhibition at The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 12:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 12:04am

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The "Behind the Art: Chinese Export Tea Ware” showcases around 60 pieces of export tea ware from the collections of the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the Art Museum of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

The exhibition is the second collaborating exhibition between the Museum of Tea Ware and CUHK. The first was held in 2015 at CUHK’s Art Museum, focusing on Yixing Ware. This time, the spotlight is on export tea ware and how art and commerce came together in a unique period of increasing economic activities between the East and West.

“Chinese tea culture is broad and diverse. The Yixing exhibition in 2015 showed an important but small facet of it, and this exhibition allows us to go deeper and look at the evolution of tea ware from a cultural and economic perspective. We look forward to more collaborations between the two museums in the future to bring more insights and shed new lights on the subject,” said Josh Yu, Director of the Art Museum, CUHK.

Research has revealed that in the 18th century, tea ware was one of China’s major exports as shown in shipping records. During the 1744-45 trading season, the Dutch East India Company vessels imported over one million pieces of Chinese export porcelain, of which 97% was tea ware.

In fact, some very important pieces were salvaged from the shipwreck of the Geldermalsen, sunk in 1752, and one of them is on display in this exhibition.

Dr Maria Mok, Curator (Chinese Antiquities) of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, said, “We worked hard to present the decorative motifs on the tea ware in a historical context, as they did not exist in a vacuum, nor were they borne out of artistic whims. The export of tea ware was a huge trade, involving not only craftsmen and designers, but also traders, shippers as well as an entire market operation. We feel this exhibition should resonate with Hong Kongers, as it shows how people from centuries ago were dealing with the same business issues as people today.”

These fascinating and exquisite pieces of tea ware, made for the European, American and Southeast Asian markets, reflect the growing cultural and artistic interaction between China and the world in the late Ming to Qing periods. Complemented with histories and stories behind the art, the exhibition looks at specific styles and decorative motifs of Chinese export tea ware and reveals its influence on tea ware design abroad.

The exhibits are put in the context of market demands and the challenges facing the buyers and sellers so that visitors will come to a better understanding of the artistic decisions behind the creation of these popular Chinese-made objects of art while appreciating their rich and varied styles.

Highlights include a cup decorated with a harbour view in fencai enamels from the 18th century; a Woodley Crest tea set in fencai enamels decorated with a picture of an owl; and an export teapot of globular shape with painted Western figure scenes in opaque enamels and gilt added in England.

The exhibition, which runs until October 31, is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, co-organised by the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the Art Museum of the CUHK.

Specialising in the collection, study and display of tea ware, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware features at its core, the generous donations of Dr K.S. Lo, whose collection is also shown in this exhibition. With a history of over 170 years, the building originally served as the office and residence of the Commander of the British Forces and is one of the oldest heritage buildings in Hong Kong to remain in its original site.

Situated inside the picturesque Hong Kong Park, it organises regular tea gatherings and lecture programmes to promote ceramic art and Chinese tea drinking culture and has become a popular spot for art lovers and families to spend a relaxing day.

The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is located at 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong (inside Hong Kong Park).

Check out the museum’s website for more information or call 2869 0690 for enquiries.