REF No. 6375
chinese export porcelain european subject blue and white plate
Qianlong period circa 1755-60
Dutch or English Market
Diameter: 9 inches; 23cm
A Chinese export porcelain plate painted in underglaze blue with a central image of figures by water, a cell diaper border at the rim.
This scene had originally been known as The Wreck of the Grosvenor because it seemed to depict a famous incident when the Grosvenor, returning from India to London was lost off the coast of South Africa in 1782. Of the 123 survivors who were cast ashore only 18 made it to Cape Town.
The porcelain clearly dates to earlier than this, the design being known in blue and white from about 1740 onwards. A number of sets must have been made over a period, as the details and quality of reproduction varies.
Another theory, which seemed persuasive (to this author among others) was that the relative crudeness of the drawing showed a Chinese misinterpretation of another European composition and that this was a very rough rendering of an earlier design, Thetis Dipping Achilles in the River Styx, from a 1719 engraving by Edmé (or Etienne) Jeaurat after a painting by Nicolas Vleughels. That print is also known painted in high quality grisaille on a large charger in the British Museum and on a plate with Cohen & Cohen (2014B).
However a recent discovery shows that this composition is actually taken from a part of a colour print by Johannes Teyler (1648-c.1709) from his Opus Typochromaticum, depicting The Fall of Phaethon. Two other prints from this Opus are known on Chinese export porcelain.
Phaethon, the son of the Sun God Helios, had begged his father to prove his paternity to his friends, so Helios had sworn an oath on the River Styx to grant any wish that the youth wanted. Phaethon chose to ride the famous sun chariot and despite his father’s warning that the steeds were too strong for him, the young man took the reins. His lack of control soon led to disasters when he flew too low and scorched the earth.
The part of the Teyler print here shows a group of River Gods in distress, who had petitioned Zeus to stop Pheaton’s uncontrolled Chariot ride because it had caused their rivers to dry up. When Zeus kills Phaethon with a thunderbolt he falls into the River Eridanus where he is drowned.
There is a similarity to the composition of the Jeaurat engraving especially as they both feature several River Gods. However the dark haired face in the upper right, which had been thought to be Vulcan is in fact a collapsed river god.
References: Hervouët et Bruneau 1986, p 206, No 9.42 a saucer from the Groninger Museum; Sapage 1992, Cat 35, a pair of teabowls and saucers; Victoria & Albert Museum, another plate, C.368-1921; Cohen & Cohen 2002, p12, an earlier lotus-form dish with this scene; Cohen & Cohen 2014B, p85, No 48, a small blue and white plate with this pattern and p86, a dinner plate with the Jeaurat print of Achilles being Dipped in the River Styx, painted en grisaille.