Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine
Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine
Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine
Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine
Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine
Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine

Antique Chinese Mudman Figurine

Regular price $75.00 Sale

Antique Chinese Mudman Fisherman Figurine beautiful handcrafted Chinese figurine of a wise man carrying a wonderfully detailed bowl in traditional dress. Mudmen are centuries old Chinese tradition, this is a beautiful and special piece for any collection.

In very good antique condition please note the broken tip of beard. Wear consistent with age and use we feel it does not detract from the overall look of the piece and is quite common for these items. It has been priced accordingly.

 • Please view all photos for condition, as our opinion may differ from yours.

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*one of two pictured, each sold individually

DIMENSIONS: 3.5" H x 1.25" W x 1.25" D 

MATERIALS: Glazed Ceramic

ORIGIN: Clay, marked (CHINA)

CIRCA: 19th Century 1890-1919 'China

FACTS & HISTORY: The Shekwan ceramics are commonly known as mudware, mud figures or figurines, mud people, mud men, mudd men, or mudmen. Over 1000 years ago, Chinese artisans during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), were creating landscape bonsai, miniature landscapes in a tray, a practice known as Pen'Jing.

 Now enters the 'mudman'. Mudmen were brightly glazed figurines of women, wise men and old sages, sometimes fishing, seated or standing, holding flutes, scrolls, pots, fish and other objects of mystical importance.

The thing that separates these figurines from the ordinary, is that they were made individually by hand. It has been suggested this was a 'cottage industry' involving nearly every member of the village in the production of these oriental curios. As the story goes, when the harvesting of rice was complete and the dry season had set in, the villagers turned to figurine production as a means of establishing a vigorous economy. This accounts for the varying degrees of quality apparent in each of the pieces. 

The 'mud' or clay for the figures was pressed into a mould by hand, at this point each part would be individually moulded to be assembled by the various crafters at the appropriate time. Fingerprints can often still be seen, immortalized in the fired clay. After the torso was released from the mould, the head, hands and legs or feet would be added. Then hair, hats, beards and other items would complete the ensemble. As a finishing touch, eyes, nose and ears would be pierced to add further detail. Then the entire collection of the works would be fired in a kiln to cure the clay.

The mudmen were hand painted with a low temperature lead glass glaze in the traditional 'yellow mustard' and 'cerulean blue', 'celadon' a green glaze, has been suggested as being used to represent 'jade'. Finally, the occasional use of white or brown was used to break the monotony of the tri-colors. The head, hands and face were left unglazed to expose the natural color of the mud that was often enough, a flesh tone. The rocks upon which some mudmen were seated, shoes or sandals, were painted with a dark brown, almost black under-glaze, that was often used to paint hair and facial features as well. I have seen some examples of the rocks painted a red oxide or yellow ochre in other pieces.

It has been proposed that the darker the clay, the older, hence more valuable, the mudman is. This is considered a myth by most knowledgeable collectors who know that the differences in the mud color account more for the region than for the age of the piece. The darker mud's were dug from the lower valleys where soil impurities and water runoff have tinted the clay. The mud color can range from a dark grey or brown to a buff or peach and even creamy white, used more often than not for the mud women.

The certain age of an antique mudman can be verified by observing the mark incised on the bottom of the figure. As all imports into the US had to have the point of origin plainly stamped within view, the pottery stamps can actually date the piece. 1890-1919 'China', 1920-1944 'made in China' or 'made in Hong Kong' and occasionally 'made in China', stamped in red ink during the late 1940's. If you have a figurine which has no mark stamped on it, the probable reason is it was not intended for export and was more likely purchased at a village market by missionaries or world travelers.

The absence of the original mudman figure from Chinese export markets after World War 2, have some collectors believing that the earliest moulds were destroyed along with the kilns by bombing raids. Others have suggested that the kilns used for pottery were converted to weapons manufacture to help counter the Japanese invasion prior to the war and were destroyed by enemy soldiers, and subsequently, the moulds were lost as well, never to be recovered.

Today, the antique mudman is a highly collectible item, surviving examples were showcased in a large exhibition at the Hong Kong Fung Ping Shan Museum in 1979 and at the Chinese Culture Centre in San Francisco in 1994.

The 'holy grail' of mudman collecting, if such a term can be applied, would be the ever elusive 'mud woman', She is a rare item indeed, adding one of these to my collection is paramount to winning the Grand Prize in a lottery! I have yet to find one in an antique shop or win an online auction for one of these beauties.

Mudman figurines can range in size from 2" to 18" and sometimes larger, the 4" to 7" model was the most popular export, mainly due to the available retail shelving space. Surviving mud figures, for the most part, have nicks to the hair and outer extremities, broken and repaired heads, hands, beards etc. It's not uncommon to find them in good condition with very little damage or no repairs, and sometimes in mint condition, I have several in that category and many in the latter. Though it has been estimated that 5% of the remaining mud figures are lost annually, the chances of acquiring one are still good, but numbers will continue to decline.

In the early 1950's, the Chinese export companies began a new era of mudman production that continues until the present. However, the newer figurines lack the expression and individuality that only a handmade item can convey, all of the experience and talent that went into the original, is lost in the mechanized world of capitalism, and for that matter, pales into comparison to the character and aesthetic beauty of the turn of the century  

*Originally published in 2005 as Myths, Facts and Fiction. The Legacy of an Antique Collectible at Bonsai4me.com