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Anatomy of a Fake
I recently purchased this "republic" period vase based only on rather poor online photos. Once I received it I immediately knew it was a fake. My wife and I are long-time western porcelain collectors and have recently decided to enter the Chinese arena, and are finding the situation with fakes and reproductions to be mind boggling--especially when it comes to 20th century pieces. I present my novice observations regarding the vase here in the hopes that more experienced collectors will elaborate on/critique my conclusions. The vase was sold through ebth.com. I believe they are basically honest but the expertise of their listers varies wildly.
Earthenware. Evidenced by the vase's heaviness, thick-walled potting, and very diffuse nature of the unglazed part of the foot rim, and of course the definitive lack of light transmission through the body. I have not heard much discussion of porcelain versus earthenware. I know earthenware was a legitimate material on early pieces but don't know how extensively it is seen on true republic pieces.
Molded. Looking into the throat of the piece it appears there are faint turning marks, but there is a very clear mold line seen on the exterior surface. Again, haven't heard much discussion on hand-thrown versus molded and whether molded construction was an acceptable technique during the Republic period.
Grit in enamel. Noticeable grit/roughness seen in the enamels. Level varies, with green and browns being the worst. The unpainted part of the body is fairly smooth, so this indicates to me that it isn't kiln grit but rather contaminants present in the enamels.
Foot Rim Distress. The foot rim shows unnatural scrapping and characteristic fake grime.
Mark. The mark was the most convincing part to me. Even seeing it up close I could not distinguish the mark from legitimate Tonzhi stamp marks which were used in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The issue of fake/modern republic period porcelain is overwhelming. There are some extremely high quality Repo's now available and being sold widespread including auction houses and eBay. To name just two.
In order to grasp the difference between the two one must read, view and handle as much as one can in order to determine the difference's etc.
Your vase is modelled on a Qing style 'bailu zun' pattern. However IMO the handles are wrong!
The glaze has IMO the appearance of being a dull white and powdery. Distinctly different appeal from those fired pre 1949. IMO modern kilns can't get it right with modern furnace versus the old coal and pine kilns.
The overall look of your vase is IMO very stiff looking, painted with haste. Childlike appearance. Lacking the fine qualities associated with said/earlier periods.
The colours appear IMO to be wrong also. Too bright. The blue is very watery and has no appeal.
The availably cobalt blue was practically non-existent during the period 1937-1945 due to the Japanese invasion.
There appears to be no wear or tear on your vase. Also a problem IMO.
The mark/seal is probably the easiest part to copy/fake/tribute. One must not rely on same but look at the overall structure of said, including the above points I have quickly outlined.
This is a porcelain vase, not earthenware - but it may just be too thick to transmit light. Porcelain is not an expensive material to work with or make , and I would guess 100% of all modern chinese copies of qing dynasty porcelain are porcelain themselves;
the qualities and make-up of the material is another complex subject entirely - sometimes modern porcelain comes out grey rather than white, and in some eras the material was much denser and finer than others, but the basic composition of ancient yuan dynasty vases and modern fakes has not changed much. So it cannot be used always as a determining factor .
As Shinigami says , the painting style and artistry of a piece is the key , as well as its form ,the elegance, proportions, things like the handles, the shape and length of the neck etc. Modern copiers cannot reproduce /copy /mimic the skills and talent of the original decorators , the shading of the colours in flowers , leaves etc. , the balance of the composition.
On the question of moulding , large vases and jars do have lines where the two halves, usually bottom and top were joined together, and these 'luting lines' can be both prominent on the piece, and important sign of age and genuineness - it means they were thrown on the wheel in separate halves and then joined by hand. Modern moulded vases are usually made in one mould (maybe , not sure?) or possibly two vertical halves, but of course fakers can also try to copy or imitate the luting lines sometimes, so again this is not a sure fire sign of age.
It's been said many times on this forum and by Peter in his videos , the mark is the last thing you should consider , as the least reliable evidence of authenticity.
I suggest before buying anything else you research more and watch Peter's videos, only buy from reputable dealers or items on the Bidamount weekly ebay newsletter pages , and ask here, before you buy, about items you are considering.
Since you said that you are at your beginning in the Chinese ceramic field, I feel like I should suggest a few considerations on the points of the “anatomy” that you made.
Body: be sure that it is porcelain. It is simply not transmitting light through because of the thickness. Earthenware with that transparent glaze does not exist. The brownish skin on the bare foot is due to the impurities in the paste, that burn oxidized in the kiln.
Molded/hand made: what do you mean by molded? It can either means molded by hand or molded in a mold. What do you mean by mold line, is it vertical or horizontal? How big is the vase, which is the diameter of the mouth? After having these answers I should elaborate more, but I suspect that you think that the vase has been molded in a mold and most probably it is not the case.
Grit in enamel: although the enamels actually doesn’t look so good, keep in mind that Chinese enamels are much thicker than those that you are used to see, and it is normal to have rough surfaces, like blistering, more or less depending from the period.
Foot rim: it is absolutely normal to see scrapings on the foot rim, and also grits are not a problem. Foot rims are usually hand finished and the grim belongs from the kiln.
Mark: I strongly suggest you to not consider the mark at all, especially at the beginning. It is the last thing to look at.
Said that, what makes evidence, at first glance, that your vase is a modern one, of low quality? As suggested by Birgit and Mark, the painting style is off and childish. To be in conditions to note this, it is necessary to see a certain number of genuine pieces (just for example, look at the unnatural size of the birds compared to the flowers: are them birds or bees?”. The style is very childish.
Thanks for everyone's reply. To clarify a couple points, the piece was molded as opposed to hand thrown. By molded I mean the standard two-part mold that is separated once the piece is formed. The mold line represents the separation between the two sections of the mold. The mold has to be done along a line of symmetry which means vertically in this case. My question is: Is the fact that a piece is molded a reliable discriminate between republic-period pieces and later fakes?
This piece is definitely not translucent and therefore not true porcelain. Earthenware may not be the correct term, but there seems to be little attention paid to the various types of bodies in Chinese porcelain. Same question as above. Is the fact that a piece has a non-porcelain body a useful piece of information in determining potential fakes? Were non-porcelain bodies used on porcelain-looking pieces in the republic period?
The enamels contain gritty contaminants. Just to be clear, I am not talking about kiln grit. The grit occurs only in the enameled areas. Most authentic pieces I have seen have fairly smooth enamels with only very minor occurrences of grit. Again, I'm wondering if particularly gritty enamels is a useful piece of information in spotting fakes.
Seems to me the fake market has become so prolific that we need to use all the tools at our disposal. Therefore, it is important to understand as much about the manufacturing techniques as possible-meaning body composition, method of forming, firing techniques, glaze & enamel composition, etc. These things can be objectively determined, but I've seen little discussion on the topics except for archeological studies of early pieces. Subjective techniques such as painting technique/quality will always be an important part of authentication, but I would not underestimate the adversary, and have no doubt that (when the price is right) there are plenty of talented Chinese artists that are perfectly capable of emulating the historic styles well enough to fool my eye.
Hello (don’t know your name), I can only reiterate all the suggestions that I gave above. It is up to you to consider them or not. Since you said that you are new to the world of Chinese ceramics, I expect that one should hear from the more experienced, but if not, no problem.
The vase is porcelain, there is not the slightest doubt about that.
I do not see a vertical joining line inside the vase. It could be slip cast, a technique that begun in the early 20th C ., but I will be surprised if this vase is slip cast. You have not said the diameter of the mouth, but I tend to think that it is hand made. Can you take a picture of the inside?
Nobody said that the enamels could have been contaminated in the kiln. I said that it is normal to have rough enamels, impurities, blistering, and so on.
Sorry but, as general rule, it is not the nature of enamels, body, etc etc that spots the fake. And it is not the painting style that it is easy to copy. It is exactly all the opposite. Enamels can be reproduced while the “hand” of the painter is the hardest point to replicate.
Anyway, I do not see why calling this vase as fake. Fake of what? It is simply a very clearly modern vase to me.
I agree with Giovanni. To judge the age of an item you don't have to be a technical expert. You just have to look at many many real items then you can often see at a glance if something is old or not. The more items you have seen the easier you can jugde them. There are people here who are really good at it and others like me who still learn, but I guess none of us pays great attention to the technical details.
Hello (I also don't know your name) -
Re your comments on 'understanding of manufacturing techniques used'. Aspects such as body clay, glaze, cobalt and enamel compositions and formations, motifs and compositions, and the writing of marks, as well as the different construction, trimming, finishing and firing techniques used in different periods, and even how the potters adjusted/change such within these periods ie: Song, Ming, Qing, have all been study in great depth and the findings published extensively throughout the last 20 years or so.
All the above is, of course, of great interest to those who wish to know and understand the differences regarding these subjects - but has also, rather unfortunately, been of great help to/for the copyist and fakers. However whilst all the above may, at some point, help to determine whether any piece is, ultimately, authentic or not in the first instance is immaterial ...
It is the 'eye' that informs first and foremost - this is done by recognising the original hand/style from a certain reign/period, or an attempt to replicate this in a latter copy, which is the critical point ... This is also true with monochromes - a somewhat specialist area within itself ...
Although some people have a 'natural eye', such instant 'recognition' only comes with looking at, handling, studying and discussing genuine pieces with others over a long time ...
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