Peking Glass

18 November 2015 Posted by Alexander

As a decorative artist, I have always been drawn to working with historic craft traditions and techniques from Asia and Europe and refining them into innovative contemporary artworks. My small collection of Peking Glass in jewel-like colours is an example of this approach; creating vessels and lamps that intrigue and attract through their bold simplicity and deeply radiant polished surfaces of amber, yellow, white nephrite and burnt-orange. 

Peking glass vessels are made in the meticulous process that was first developed in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) workshops within the Forbidden city in Peking (now Beijing) first under the Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) and reaching its zenith under Emperor Qianglong (1736-1795). The Qing rulers, princes and ministers were ardent collectors of glass objet and it was through their financial support and a steady supply of labour, that glass production at the Imperial glassworks went smoothly for some 200 years. Glass in the Qing courts was regarded as a high craft technique producing precious, collectable works of art.

The vessels were then – and still are today – made in gorgeous gem-like tones, either opaque or translucent according to the pigment, and the results are exquisite and exotic glassworks unlike those from any other glass producers. A friend of mine who has worked for years with Murano told me that, despite the wonderful innovations and undoubted skills of the Murano workshops, they are unable to achieve the colours and character of these Chinese forms. They have tried!

Concubine Vases.

The technique used to make these vases is uncompromising in terms of process and materials but I have tried to bring a new scale and more contemporary forms to this medium. We have created innovative vases and also, in the ‘Scholar’s Gift Collection’ we have Peking glass vases in miniature. In the lighting collection there are the ‘Cicada Lanterns’ that fuse cast bronze with wonderfully thick and enigmatic octagonal columns of white Peking glass. This is one of my favourite pieces of all. 

The characteristic rings of Peking glass attest to repeated baptisms in liquid glass that stay after cooling. 

The technique of making Peking glass vessels involves turning a blowpipe in a crucible of molten, pigmented glass until enough volume has built up on the end. Then this globule is immersed and re-immersed a number of times until a large amount of glass has accumulated for the vase. Metal tooling roughly shapes the form before it enters an iron mold and the glass is blown out into the form within the mold. The glass cools very gradually in a kiln for about 2 days. Once cool the top is cut cleanly and each vase is polished by hand for many hours until the surface glistens. The entire work is a volatile process, and often six out of ten vases are rejected for bubbles, cracks, and other imperfections that are discovered as the pieces are finished.

The glass is cut and polished using ancient jade-cutting techniques, Globe Vase.

Peking glass is an ancient technique that I have worked to lovingly and alluringly bring into the 21st century. The brilliant flowing colours and stunning layers created by the liquid glass weave together into my simple forms that exude the work of skilled artisans.  

Modern Palace Vases.

Cicada Lanterns in octagonal columns of white Peking glass.

Miniature bottles from the Scholar’s Gift Collection.

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