Porcelain and Painting
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The Origin

We shall do paintings on porcelain dishes, each to paint on fifty dishes, and then to jointly paint on ten more dishes. (This can be completed within ten days.) It will be a novelty to exhibit them in Hong Kong. The response will be good, and we do not have to spend much time. It will be a pioneering act and very good contribution to the porcelain industry of China.

Letter from Chao Shao-an to Yang Shanshen
ca. 1945 to 1948
Anthology of Letters Collected in the Chunfeng Caotang

About seventy years ago, Chao Shao-an (1905-1998) was thinking about a “pioneering act” of a joint exhibition with Yang Shanshen (1913-2004) to show their paintings executed on porcelain. At that time, they were thinking that painting the dishes would not take long; but fate had it that they made many joint exhibitions of works on paper, but never did the exhibition of porcelain happen in their lives.

With the generous support of Professor Chao's family and Yuet Tung China Works, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum is displaying a unique collection of joint works by the two masters for the first time. Paintings on paper are dated from the 1950s while the works on porcelain are executed in Yuet Tung China Works during the 1960s to 1980s. These works are valuable evidence of their friendship, their artistic dialogue, and the relation between the Lingnan School and the Guangcai ceramic industry in Hong Kong.

Friendship Revealed in Works of Porcelain and Painting

Chao Shao-an and Yang Shanshen had known each other since the 1940s when Chao was living in Guangzhou, and they had often exhibited their works together. In 1948, Chao moved to Hong Kong and re-established the Lingnan Art Studio on the Prince Edward Road in Kowloon. Yang has settled in Hong Kong even earlier. They became very close friends, meeting often in the Studio for leisure and for creating joint paintings.

These joint works are evidence of their close friendship. Each artist displays his talent, but at the same time compliments the skills of the other. Hence there is a visual dialogue in the use of ink and wash, and the balance of colour and line in each of these works. The inscriptions reveal that many of them were painted in the Lingnan Art Studio. Some of these collaborations arose casually when Chao started to paint, and invited Yang the visitor to add in. These works are quite different from standard collaborative works with assigned subjects.

Chao once said, “Joint works are very interesting because they consist of different personalities and ways of thinking.” Yang had spoken about the attitude of making joint paintings as “collaboration is working together, and you do not dominate others. It is important to be humble, just like when you are relating with other people.” With a good understanding of collaboration and of one another’s character, they painted to complement and to enhance the art of one other, yet was able to bring the work to a unified whole. These works reflect a tacit understanding between the two painters, and a humble and embracing spirit in their personalities.

The works on porcelain are their exploration of a new medium. The joint works Insect in Moonlight, Cicada and Bamboo and Bamboo and Insect on display are done in Yuet Tung China Works. Yang usually depicted the branches in outlines, while Chao added the insects and inscriptions. Yang has also made gifts of his works to Chao and his wife, namely Rooster, Fish, Prawn, and Two Goldfishes, which are evidence of the enjoyable times of friendly gathering.

The Lingnan Painters and Yuet Tung China Works

There is a continued relation between artists of the Lingnan School and the Cantonese enameling industry, whose products are commonly known as Guangcai. Typical Guangcai wares carried rich and glamorous decoration. They were produced in Guangzhou in the Qing dynasty by importing white porcelain bodies from Jingdezhen and adding painted decoration and firing it a second time locally. From 1908 to 1911, the last years of the Qing dynasty, the founders of the Lingnan School Gao Jianfu (1879-1951) and Gao Qifeng (1889-1933) had established the Art Object Traders’ Association in Guangzhou in the area south of the Pearl River. Their apparent aim was to “promote Chinese ceramic production for the salvation of the country”, and studied and produced porcelain wares with painted decoration (enamelled wares) for sale. Working behind this cover, they made gunpowder in the kiln factory, and raised money for the revolutionary activities during that era. On display is a work by Gao Jianfu Dish with Mantise Design in fencai Enamels bearing the mark of the Association. The other, a jar painted with peonies, bears no mark but was probably a work that Gao created in this same period.

Chao Shao-an, a student of Gao Qifeng, also took interest in painting on porcelain, as a continued activity from his teachers, and as a way to preserve the works by kiln firing. In 1928, the founder of Yuet Tung China Works in Guangzhou, Tso Lu Song, moved the factory to Hong Kong. In 1950s, his son Tso Wing Shui took over management of the Works, and made friends with Chao and Yang.

The factory of Yuet Tung China Works was re-located on the slope of Tai Wo Ping on Lung Cheung Road in Shum Shui Po. Chao and Yang visited the Works by riding in a friend’s car. For their painting, Tso Wing Shui reserved porcelain dishes imported from Japan. He also prepared the colour pigments (enamels) ahead, and fired the works in the kiln. Some works bear the mark of Yuet Tung China Works on the bottom. In gratitude for his help, the two painters dedicated some works to Tso as souvenirs for each visit. The exhibits Pomegranate, The Court Lady and Insect in Moonlight are such souvenirs dedicated to Tso or his wife.

Typical Guangcai wares have rich and dense decoration, while the painted works of Chao and Yang are an extension of their own style on paper. The dishes could have been hung on the wall for appreciation similar to the paintings, as in the case of two reproduction dishes in the studio in this gallery. Chao was skilled in techniques of contending water and powder to make gradations, and used fine brushes to paint in details. Yang painted roosters and fish and human figures in outlines, so their style and technique differ according to their preference and skill.

They were long-term friends with the Works, and they visited the factory every two or three years to paint on porcelain. Yang would also bring his students to stroll up the hill every two years or so, to visit and practice painting at the same time. The experiments they did in this medium opened up new possibilities for artistic creation. They also made a new page in perpetuating the connection between ceramics and Lingnan painting.


  • Chao Shao-an and Yang Shanshen demonstrating in interview

  • Chinese Painting: Works Painted in Co-operation by Four Masters of ...

  • Premises of Yuet Tung China Works at Tai Wo Ping (1)

  • Premises of Yuet Tung China Works at Tai Wo Ping (2)