Guyuexuan - industrial art of Qing Dynasty

Guyuexuan was an industrial art that originated during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In the Qing Dynasty. vases of many shapes. sizes and styles were made for daily use in palaces. as well as in less exalted surroundings; Guyuexuan is one of the most popular ones.

Guyuexuan is decorated with very finely painted enamel patterns and calligraphic inscriptions. It is produced by painting on glass roughcast with enamel color and treated at high temperatures. Due to the high degree of technical difficulty. only small articles such as snuff bottles and cigarette dishes were made at the imperial kiln.

The main difficulty in producing Guyuexuan is that the temperature of the enamel must meet the melting temperature of roughcast. The artisan. therefore. must be able to master the kiln temperature and the thickness of the roughcast. Producing a piece of Guyuexuan requires dozens of colorings and bluing. Even the slightest hint of neglect could spoil all of the efforts.

Guyuexuan articles are known for their high quality and rich colors. They are a painted glass requiring numerous firing techniques. Nearly all of them contain the artist`s signature on the bottom in calligraphy. Guyuexuan articles are decorated with rock. bamboo and rose designs in a landscape. The rocks are painted with a variety of colors. while the roses are created with only one shade of translucent pink enamel. The style of painting on the roses was only possible due to major technological developments in enamel-making. which enabled the production of pink. which is based on colloidal gold. and the production of enamels that did not flow when fired. These stable enamels permitted the ceramic decorator to achieve various densities of the same shade by applying the enamel at different thickness levels. The decorator was also able to reserve the outlines of the flower petals rather than painting them in a contrasting enamel color.

In the past. there were three explanations for the name Guyuanxuan: that during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796). there was a small room named Guyuanxuan; that Guyuexuan was a kind of refined glassware made by an artisan surnamed Hu; and that there was no Guyuexuan in history at all. and the name was fabricated by antique merchants for commercial purposes. In recent years. another theory emerged which said Guyuexuan was actually enamel painted on porcelains. All such speculations are groundless and do not hold much water. Guyuexuan is still an enigma that museums and the community of industrial arts cannot explain.