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From China to Japan: The coveted Jian tea bowl

Unwrapping the Kuroda family Jian tea bowl, the prized lot of the Linyushanren Collection up for auction on 15 September in New York

For nearly a millennium, the wares of the Jian kilns have been celebrated in China. As ceramic styles have risen and fallen with shifts in politics and taste, the dark-glazed Jian tea bowls have remained in vogue, with the most coveted examples featuring an especially rare ‘oil-spot’ glaze. Leading the Linyushanren Collection, the Kuroda family tenmoku Jian bowl exhibits the iron-rich glaze prized during the Song dynasty (960–1279) in China, subsequently in Japan, and ultimately, by collectors across the globe today.

Fashions in tea consumption played a crucial role in shaping ceramic styles. In the elaborate process of making tea during the Song dynasty, the popular white-leaf tea was ground to a powder and whisked into a milky froth, to create a pleasing contrast with the darker wares of this era. Black-glazed tea bowls were therefore made at a number of kilns, including the Ding kilns of Hebei province, but the bowls most frequently praised in the historical texts of the literati were those from the Jian kilns of Fujian province. 

The Kuroda family yuteki tenmoku. A highly important and very rare ‘oil-spot’ Jian tea bowl. Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). Estimate $1,500,000–2,500,000. This work is offered in The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics The Linyushanren Collection, Part II, 15 September at Christie’s New York
The Kuroda family yuteki tenmoku. A highly important and very rare ‘oil-spot’ Jian tea bowl. Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). Estimate: $1,500,000–2,500,000. This work is offered in The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: The Linyushanren Collection, Part II, 15 September at Christie’s New York

The gorgeous dark beauty of Jian wares lies in their inky black glazes, which are fired between 1250–1300°C, with the excess iron being carried to the surface and creating droplets of precipitation. In some cases the droplets burst, producing the rare effect known as ‘oil spot’, which the Kuroda family bowl exhibits.

This particular bowl has an especially illustrious history, having belonged to the Kuroda Family Collection and the Ataka Collection before joining the Linyushanren Collection. The tea bowl was passed down from generation to generation in the storied Kuroda clan before its registration in Japan as an ‘Important Cultural Property’ in 1935 by the Japanese Ministry of Culture. In 2015, it was deregistered at the request of the current owner.

The ‘oil-spot’ Jian tea bowl will be offered in The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: The Linyushanren Collection on 15 September at Christie’s New York.