White porcelain ‘moon jar’


White porcelain 'moon jar', Choson dynasty, Korea, 17th-18th century, glazed porcelain, 47 cm high (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

White porcelain ‘moon jar’, Choson/Joseon dynasty, Korea, 17th–18th century, glazed porcelain, 47 cm high (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

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.”

White porcelain 'moon jar', Choson dynasty, Korea, 17th-18th century, glazed porcelain, 47 cm high (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

White porcelain ‘moon jar’, Choson/Joseon dynasty, Korea, 17th–18th century, glazed porcelain, 47 cm high (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Dame Lucie Rie photographed in her London studio in 1989 by Lord Snowdon. Image credit via Instaram @ARMSTRONGJONES

Dame Lucie Rie photographed in her London studio in 1989 by Lord Snowdon (Instagram via @ARMSTRONGJONES)

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

 


Additional resources:

J. Portal, Korea – art and archaeology (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

Cite this page as: The British Museum, "White porcelain ‘moon jar’," in Smarthistory, March 2, 2021, accessed August 2, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/white-porcelain-moon-jar/.