Lived in Lucie Rie’s studio for 50 years
This jar is a magnificent example of the ceramic art of the Choson (Joseon) dynasty (1392–1910). At this time, plain white porcelain represented the epitome of austere Confucian taste. As the scholar Yi Kyu-gyong wrote, “the greatest merit of white porcelain lies in its absolute purity.”
The jar also testifies to the admiration of two of the greatest twentieth-century British potters for Korean wares. It was bought in an antique shop in Seoul by Bernard Leach (1887–1979) in 1935, on one of his visits from Japan. He gave it to Lucie Rie (1902–95), who on her death bequeathed it to Janet Leach. The British Museum acquired it from her estate in 1999. They also acquired a letter from Bernard Leach to Rie, in which he asks her to collect the jar from a friend’s house and look after it during the Second World War (1939–45). In the event, when Leach saw the jar in Rie’s studio, he decided that it should remain there. A portrait by Lord Snowdon shows Rie, dressed all in white herself, seated beside the pot.
Bernard Leach was involved with the Japanese mingei (folk crafts) movement in the early part of the twentieth century. The group particularly admired the white porcelain of the Choson period for its lack of self-consciousness, and the beauty of its slight imperfections.
This jar shows this exquisitely, with the imperfections in the clay and the glaze, as well as in the bulge around the center that marks the join between the upper and lower halves of the body.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
J. Portal, Korea – art and archaeology (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)