The Shipwreck Design :
This unusual blue and white Chinese export porcelain design occurs on soft-paste porcelain of the Qianlong period and dates to about 1760 to 1770, its use appears to be limited to teawares. The intricate design is carefully painted, the painting style mimics the techniques used on the original European copper-plate engraving. Soft-paste porcelain was used for this blue and white pattern as it could take the detail and retain it better than Chinese hard-paste. Unfortunately the source for this design is as yet unknown but the design has traditionally been referred to as `The Shipwreck`. It shows a group of black and white figures on a small promontory or island, one figure is either dead or exhausted, flat out, draped over the edge with an arm limp in the water, behind a group of three figures are huddled together with cloth wrapped around them, a despairing figure stand with hand on brow being comforted by another. To the left are two small curious figure that look hardly human. It has been suggested that the scene was influenced by engravings illustrating the voyages of Captain Cook, this sound highly speculative at best.
Chinese Soft-Paste Porcelain :
Christiaan Jorg States in `Chinese Porcelain in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Ming and Qing Dynasties` (Christiaan Jorg, Phillip Wilson, The Rijksmuseum, 1997) “Chinese soft-pate porcelain, which is different from European soft-paste, originated about 1700 and became popular in the second quarter of the 18th century as part of the export assortment. Unlike ordinary porcelain, it is not translucent and often has a creamy-white appearance. The glaze is often finely crackled as a result of a difference in cooling between the glaze and the body. The later is made of a white-firing clay, called huashi, `slippery stone`, the use of which is documented in the reports of 1712 and 1722 by the Jesuit Pere d`Entrecolles. As the clay was expensive, soft-paste pieces are usually small and thinly potted. They are also well-painted, as the body is particularly suitable for detailed drawing. Besides this `true` soft-paste, there are pieces with an ordinary porcelain body and a coating of `huashi` clay, which gives the same effect”. Chinese soft-paste porcelain of the early 18th century appears to be confined to small objects used by Chinese scholars, small vases for a single flower, seal-paste boxes and other objects for the scholar`s desk. These pieces were special and more expensive than their hard-paste porcelain counterparts. By the mid-18th century soft-paste porcelain was used to a limited degree for export-ware, and few if any scholar`s objects were produced. It was used for, among other designs, pieces in the Meissen style but only for the blue and white porcelain. It seams curious to be copying European hard-paste porcelain with Chinese soft-paste porcelain, especially as it was more expensive to produce. This is especially odd as all the coloured Meissen porcelain was copied in hard-paste porcelain. Ironically many of the Meissen designs copied were themselves copies of Chinese designs. During the latter part of the 18th century soft-paste porcelain was used for larger pieces, vases, jars and other export wares, but even at this time it was normally reserved for the better quality painting and was painted with a good bright cobalt pigment.