Exciting news at Arundells. Conservation of the Ming dynasty bowl is complete, and it will be back on display this season. The bowl was conserved with the aid of a grant from the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme.
Sir Edward’s large celadon-glazed porcelain bowl is an example of Ming dynasty Zhangzhou ware dated to the Wanli period, circa 1590. It has been identified as a conservation priority because of its significance within the Arundells collection and current condition.
Zhangzhou porcelain was made for export at kilns mostly located in the Fujian province. They were traded to countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia as well as Japan and Holland. They are characterised by coarse sandy bases, evidence of the firing process, and were usually decorated with underglaze blue and overglaze enamel – this is a rare celadon-glazed example. Dated to circa 1590, it is among the oldest objects in the collection. Heath was fascinated with the bowl’s Indonesian heritage, writing in 1975: “there seemed to me to be something particularly romantic about its story.”
The bowl was acquired by Heath in Jakarta, Indonesia, as he returned from victory in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. It formed the foundation of his collection of Chinese ceramics. During his time as Prime Minister, the bowl rested on a table in the hall of his flat in 10 Downing Street. Unfortunately, it was smashed during the move out of Downing Street in 1974. Heath described himself as “heartbroken” when the bowl was broken.
Following the 1974 accident, the bowl was extensively broken into approximately 28 pieces with some shards lost. Repairs were carried out at the time. Most glues and fillers have a limited life expectancy and the 50 year old bowl repairs were deteriorating. The old glue had darkened and yellowed and likely weakened. Without remedial conservation work, the damage would have continued to develop and weaken the structure of the bowl.
Conservation & Repair
The bowl has recently undergone a full restoration thanks to the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme. The Pilgrim Trust is an independent grant-making trust which supports UK charities and public bodies that work on preserving the UK’s heritage or catalysing social change. Their remedial conservation grants scheme, administered by the Association of Independent Museums, aims to help small- to medium-sized organisations conserve an object from their collection.
It proved to be a challenging project for the conservators at WCMAs – the epoxy resin used to repair the bowl in 1974 was very tenacious, and the whole team had to be trained in the use of an extra-strong solvent. This earnt the bowl the name of ‘stubborn bowl’. As requested, they have cleaned and improved the appearance of the bowl but have not ‘restored’ it – the cracks are part of the story.
The Ming Bowl recently featured on BBC’s Antiques Road Trip. You can watch the episode by clicking the link below and skipping 25mins in.
We are over the moon to have the bowl back where it belongs and out on display to visitors this season. After a busy few months, we think the bowl is glad to be back too.