I bet that for many the term "European Porcelain Copies" conjures the image of Chinese fakes of European porcelain - the result of today's market situation. We are at the receiving end of faking, today (to be sure, China itself is also feeling the damage! The Chinese government is doing little about the situation, up oto now.) However, this page shall set the record straight regarding copying of porcelain.
The Europeans were actually the first to imitate porcelain - they copied Chinese porcelain!
Sometimes Chinese motifs were copied down to the tiniest details. European porcelain copies bearing Chinese motifs and decorations were made from very early on. Soon after it entered Europe for the first time, Chinese porcelain became the rage and Europe's craftsmen tried to imitate it. That is, they did not only try to make a similar clay body like the Chinese porcelain, but they frequently made replica of Chinese decorations. As at the time no Kaolin clay was available, blank porcelain was imported from China to be painted in Europe. At the same time the Europeans tried various artificial clay mixtures to imitate Chinese porcelain, which then were decorated by European ceramic painters.
Real European porcelain became available only after Kaolin, the essential component of Chinese porcelain clay was discovered in Europe, and after the method of producing the porcelain clay became known - in the middle of the 18th century.
"Chinoiserie" is the name for a form of early European decorations that copied Chinese motifs, Chinese style porcelain patterns. While some of the very early European copies copied Chinese motifs very closely, soon distinct European-style "Chinese" decorations started to appear. They are now called Chinoiserie. These can often be distinguished with relative ease from the Chinese-made decorations. They are usually painted in a style, and show proportions, that are different from those actually made in China.
European copies of Chinese porcelain can often be distinguished with relative ease from Chinese originals. They are usually painted in a style, and show
proportions, that are different from those actually made in China.
There are exceptions, however.
The porcelain firm Worcester in England, for example, made
Chinoiserie items of different levels. Some are so convincing that it is
necessary to have their decoration examined really close, in order to
realize that they are not Chinese; even the style was imitated to a high
degree. Sometimes only the different base reveals that it is not Chinese. Luckily, in most cases on European porcelain copies of Chinese porcelain
the European manufacturers used their own, or special marks, rather
than imitating the Chinese ones.
However, during the 19th century some European porcelain manufacturers were producing high-level replicas of Chinese porcelain, which are difficult to distinguish from the Chinese originals. Should we call them fakes? No, they don't fall into the category of fakes, because the manufacturers applied their own marks. They did not pretend the items were something different, which usually is the main difference between a copy or replica and a fake. Please note, however, that in some cases knowledge of genuine Chinese items may be required to make sure what an item really is.
Herend is also known to have made some straight replicas of Chinese
porcelain, but they were all marked with an impressed mark and can be
recognized by it.
Another firm extensively copying Chinese porcelain designs in the 19th century was founded by Edmé Samson (Paris, 1810-1891): Samson, Edmé et Cie.
The firm mainly copied the designs of other manufacturers; this included European as well as Chinese porcelain patterns. Some were copied to such a degree that it is difficult to tell the original from the copy.
Although Samson seems to have clearly marked their own products, it appears some were still passed off as original Chinese items, possibly by third parties. Copies were found with the Samson mark removed, but it is unknown who removed them.
There can be no doubt as to the purpose of this...
I have also direct information from China that European chinoiserie which was highly resembling Chinese wares was imported into China, no doubt to be passed off as Chinese.
Please note that there is a type of porcelain called 'Oriental Lowestoft'. For some reason some Chinese export porcelain got associated with Lowestoft porcelain for a long time. However, what is now called "oriental" Lowestoft was not made by the Lowestoft porcelain factory. It is actually real Chinese export porcelain.
One of the traits that makes it easy even for novices to recognize if something is chinoiserie or not is the way landscapes, houses and people are painted
For example, you will frequently see that houses are the same height at the end farther away from the viewer, or the trees in the foreground and background are out of proportion in Chinese decorations. The reason is probably that Chinese artists and craftsmen learned always by copying other's works.
Unlike western artists the were not taught how to make objects or spaces look three-dimensional, which is a basic part of the basic training of western artists. Thus landscapes or anything which is 3D looks wrong in view to proportions. Apart from the Kangxi reign, perhaps, the decorations generally do not show depth by employing different shades of the same color.
European painters in China, like Guiseppe Castiglione (see this site) introduced such styles into court paintings, but these styles hardly ever found their way into the art and crafts outside the palace, not before the 20th century.