Friday, September 20, 2019

The graceful art of Benjarong

Jan 19. 2019
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By The Nation

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River Books and River City Bangkok are holding the exhibition “Bencharong Journey: From China to Siam” at RCB Auctions on the fourth floor of River City Bangkok until January 31.

The innovative Siamese designs and vivid colours of this unique Chinese export porcelain make it immensely attractive and desirable – a perfect marriage of Chinese technology and Siamese ascetics. More than 150 pieces of bencharong and related objects in other materials made exclusively for Siam in the 18th and 19th centuries have been assembled from private collections and galleries exclusively for this event, which is curated by ceramics historian Dawn F Rooney.

The exhibition is the first to be held on bencharong since 1977 when the National Museum Bangkok held a show based on its collection. The exhibition is divided into 12 quintessentially Siamese vignettes that provide a glimpse into the Siamese court life when bencharong was used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Didactic panels in Thai and English introduce each of the vignettes such as Dining in the Palace, Himaphan Forest Creatures and Celestial Beings, and Tea Time. Many pieces are from private collections and being shown for the first time and related objects in other materials that mirror bencharong forms and motifs are also presented. The original antique maps, town plans, prints, and cover pages from French publications put bencharong into a historical and cultural context.

Some rare pieces not to be missed in this exhibition are shards excavated in Jingdezhen, China that are being exhibited here for the first time. These provide the first and only evidence that at least some bencharong was enamelled in Jindezhen, rather than Guangzhou where most of the enamelling was done. The exhibition also includes several pieces from a royal collection such as a shrine bedecked with a 15-piece set of bencharong.

“Bencharong is porcelain and requires two firings, or three if gold is used; the motifs and forms are made-to-order exclusively for Siam. The exotic and lavishness of bencharong is seen in the dense, detailed decoration that covers the entire piece, the flamboyant motifs and the vibrant colours reflect the Thais love of nature, art, and life,” curator Rooney says. 

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