Subject:The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Tue, Aug 30, 2005
“You sir, are a proponent of the hollow-line theory; such theory that has been largely and scientifically disproven, yet you continue to advocate your views which have no bearing on the truth”.
So said Lloyd Smith in a post of 22nd August 2005, under the topic “Daoguang Bat Dishes”.
I cannot leave a statement like this unchallenged, so for those readers who are interested in the “hollow line’ theory, I will present my own views for further discussion.
The “hollow line” theory was to my knowledge, first published by Calvin Chou in 1978. In 1996, when I published my first book, Allen’s Introduction To Later Chinese Porcelain”, I devoted a four page chapter to the subject. In my concluding summary, I stated “Readers in my view who disregard “hollow line”, do so at their peril…....…In my opinion, based on my own observations, Chou’s theory is largely correct but should be used with caution.” Almost 10 years have elapsed since I wrote this summary, and I have seen no new evidence that would change my opinion.
So what is “hollow line”? It is a name coined by Chou to describe a feature of many Chinese underglaze blue porcelains of the period circa 1850 to 1940, where the particles of poorly refined cobalt are pushed by the brush to the outer edges of the stroke. It is especially noticeable on the shorter strokes, like reign mark characters. I stress the word MANY, because the feature does not apply to All porcelain. Of five Guangxu mark and period pieces I have in stock at present, only two show the feature. An extreme example of hollow line is the apocryphal Yongzheng mark (Fig. 1).
“Hollow line” is also often to be found in conjunction with “split lines” (blisters) and bubble bursts, especially at the end of strokes, and the uneven application and spread (depth) of the blue is also a recurring feature of underglaze blue ceramics of this late period. The earliest dated piece I have seen with “hollow line” is now Daoguang (1821 to 1850), and must have been late in the reign. I also stated that the Draft History of Jingdezhen records at this time, a change in the method of applying the cobalt, using a lightly fired body rather than an unfired one. This to my mind is a plausible explanation for the feature, as a lightly fired body is likely to be less porous and less adhesive.
In arriving at my opinion, I have had at my disposal, not just a small collection of shards from the Imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, but also a substantial collection of Chinese taste and mark and period porcelains, some sixty of which will be offered at Sotheby’s London sale of 9th November. In addition, I have bought, sold and handled thousands of other ceramics from this period and earlier.
Two of these shards are illustrated (Fig. 2), one from the Kangxi (1662 to 1722) reign, the other Guangxu (1875 to 1908). A closeup of the two, (Fig. 3) shows the features I am referring to in the Guangxu mark, but absent from the Kangxi one.
In the closing years of the Qing dynasty (circa 1912), and the early years of the Republic, some high quality porcelains bearing Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks were made, many of which were of such high quality that they were subsequently assumed to be mark and period. Two such exquisite items, tea bowls and saucers in doucai (contrasting underglaze blue and overglaze enamel decoration), with Yongzheng (1723 to 1735) marks, were withdrawn from an auction in Auckland last year. They had impeccable provenance with prestigious collectors’, dealers’ and auction house labels from the 1940’s and 1950’s. But they had extreme “hollow line” and in my opinion were Republic period. I have seen numbers of similar instances over the years, particularly with porcelain bearing Yongzheng marks, and in the mid-1980’s I had experienced Asian dealers compete at auction for thousands of dollars, on pieces I had submitted as Republic period, having acquired them from a dealer in Taiwan for just $US150 each.
The publication of my books caused some disquiet in certain quarters, noticeably with a few dealers and museum curators who had probably bought or sold such pieces as mark and period, either knowingly or in error. To my knowledge there has been nothing to support Lloyd’s assertion that the theory “has been largely and scientifically disproven”. In fact, the only criticism I have heard about my books, other than from a crooked Singapore dealer who expelled me from his shop, were second hand reports of postings on the Gotheborg site. Accompanied by similar comments as “anyone can write a book”, the jealous reactions provoked by these publications has been quite extraordinary. The success of my books, with sales now exceeding $300,000, has further upset these critics. While there was one error in dating in the first book, which I corrected in the second, I have not had one report of an error in dating in the second, the photos for which were discussed prior to publication, with Mr Lei Rui Chun, deputy director of the Jingdezhen Museum.
If Mr Lee would allow one further digression, I would like to make a personal observation of the Gotheborg forum, the site of these unfounded statements which Lloyd has chosen to repeat. The Gotheborg moderator has chosen to list “The 100 Best Books on Chinese Porcelain”, and if one counts them there are only 36. My books are noticeable by their absence from the list. However, I am in good company, for as Bill Hardy points out, neither is Liu Liang-Yu, author of what in my opinion is the best English language book on Chinese Imperial porcelains printed to date. We are in good company, because neither is Professor van Oort, Bushell or Hobson, to name just three more.
Whether these books are omitted by ignorance or prejudice does not really matter. By operating such a heavily censored site, where differing opinions to the moderator are discouraged and the contributors even banned, brings the site into disrepute.
I trust we may enjoy a healthy discussion on this topic, without resorting to personal attacks. I have presented some evidence to support my views. If you disagree, please try and back your comments up with photographic evidence.
I thank you for the opportunity of clarifying my position.
A.J. (Tony) Allen