Let's Learn About...Porcelain

June 2022

Dehua porcelain sculpture of a plum tree with figures around it

This June, LET’S LEARN ABOUT…Porcelain!


Have you ever wondered – about bowls, plates, cups, and spoons your family uses, or the ones you see in restaurants – what material was used to make them? The ones with a glass-like surface, they could be porcelain!

Porcelain is an especially refined type of ceramic – usually white and translucent, lightweight yet durable. Some of the best porcelain is made using a clay called kaolin, a natural material in the earth that could be found in large quantities in parts of China. The Chinese were the first to perfect the art of making porcelain.

Chinese porcelain objects were so well-made and beautiful that they were traded as precious goods and beloved around the world. One type of porcelain, made in the Dehua kilns, in Fujian province, became especially popular with European collectors. The milky white colour of these wares earned them the French nickname: "blanc de Chine" (which means "white from China"). The earliest Dehua porcelain objects date back to over 700 years ago, but they were most popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.



 Tree with figurines

Plum tree with figures

China, Dehua, 19th century


Gift of Dorothy Chan in honour of her godmother Mrs Pamela Hickley



This Dehua porcelain sculpture of a tree, at 54 cm tall, has many fine details. The kaolin clay around Dehua was especially good for shaping and moulding. And the purity of it allows for bright white porcelain. 

What can you see in this sculpture? Did you notice that the roots and branches curve in different directions, and that the plum blossoms are in different stages of blooming? This shows the high level of skill of the Dehua potters who created detailed artworks like this!

What other things can you spot? Can you think up a story about what's going on? Take a closer look at this sculpture in our Ceramics Gallery on Level 3.



Coffee pot


Coffee pot

Porcelain: Japan, Arita, late 1600s or early 1700s

Gilded metal mount: Probably Germany, 1700s



What would happen if two very skilled artists came together to produce something special? The porcelain parts of this coffee pot were made in Japan. The gold-coloured metal parts were added in Europe. Coffee was becoming popular in Europe around this time, so a coffee lover in Europe probably used to own this pot! Japanese ceramics were introduced to European countries through trade.

From where do you think the coffee is poured out?

It’s not that hard to spot porcelain made in Arita, Japan, once you know they are usually decorated with vibrant blue, red, and orange colours. You can find this coffee pot in our Maritime Trade Gallery on Level 1. 




Find out how ceramics like porcelain are made, in this short animation.





Try our hand at making your very own "porcelain" bowl! Tag us @ACM_SG #LearningatACM for a chance to get your bowl featured.



Items you will need

  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 ¼ cups cold water
  • Child-safe nail polish or white glue
  • Acrylic paint or markers
  • Cloth
  • Pot and plate


Follow these steps

  1. Mix corn starch, baking powder, and cold water into a pot. Have an adult help you cook this mixture over medium heat.
  2. Once the mixture looks like mashed potatoes (when it thickens), remove it from the pot and let it rest on a plate, covered with a damp cloth.
  3. Once the mixture is cool to the touch, start to knead the clay into the shape of a bowl.

Let your creations air-dry for 2 days. Then, paint with nail polish or white glue to give it a shine. You are done!




Check out our Demystifying Ceramics installation located in the Ceramics Gallery on Level 3.

Demystifying Ceramics


Then, head to NHB’s one-stop heritage portal Roots.sg to read more about porcelain:

Plum tree with figures

Coffee pot


Want more of these resources? Come back to learn new things every month.

Missed a monthly post? Not to worry, we keep past topics here for you.

What else would you like to learn about? Tell us here.


There’s more!

Check out other videos and download e-resources inspired by the objects in ACM’s collection.



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