Three years ago in London, Peter Wain held an exhibition of “qianjiang” painting on Chinese porcelain. Under the title “Awaiting Spring,” the exhibition was acclaimed as “the first to be held anywhere in the world that is devoted entirely to qianjiang porcelain painting.” At the time, Wain explained that this style of porcelain painting flourished in China for nearly 50 years from the second part of the 19th century. The exhibition, he said, broke new ground. He is concerned with making the public aware that appreciation of Chinese ceramics should not be confined to the antique. Much later work and much contemporary work is “100 percent of amazing quality,” he said. “My love of ceramics covers all countries and all ceramics whether they are old or contemporary. Trend and fashion should not be part of it.”
He comes from a line of potters that began with his great-grandfather in Stoke-on-Trent, home of pottery in England. As a child he was familiar with the production of Royal Doulton wares, and as a university student he worked at the factory during his vacations.
“I was fascinated by the history of pottery, and was a volunteer at the Hanley Museum,” he said. “It was not until I joined the army and went to Hong Kong that I saw Chinese porcelain in any quantity. For me that was a revelation. “
Wain set out after university not to be an army officer but to be a teacher. “After 12 months of teaching, I couldn’t get on with it,” he said. “I took a three-year commission in the army. That turned into 16 years. In the army I traveled most of the world and lived in Hong Kong for three years.”
His stay there coincided with the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. “In Hong Kong I became interested not only in ancient ceramics, but also in what was going on in China, historian as I was,” he said. “I began collecting works of art of the Mao era. There was a division between art for the masses and art for export. China almost closed down, with a main source of income coming from the shops of Hong Kong and Macau. The work being done by senior masters producing for export, and official work made specially for exhibition in China, was of very high quality.”
Wain retired from the army, and established himself in England as a dealer in Oriental ceramics. With his wife and four children, he made his home again in the vicinity of his childhood. For more than 20 years now, he has been developing his knowledge and refining his specialization. He has made his name well known and respected. He is a member of the British Antique Dealers’ Association and of the Oriental Ceramic Society. He has served as chairman of the Oriental Vetting Committee for top-level international fine arts and antique fairs not only in London but also in other English centers and Scotland. He is editor of the Oriental Section of Miller’s Antique Price Guide, and contributing editor of Miller’s Chinese and Japanese Antique Buyers Guide. He publishes articles, appears on television and makes radio broadcasts in England, the U.S. and China. He lectures at Sotheby’s Institute in London, in Wales, the U.S. and Australia. He is featured in magazines and newspapers. “I am often called upon, but often do not accept,” he said. “I am a one-man band, and cannot stretch myself too far.”
Wain’s publication “Awaiting Spring” accompanied the 1998 exhibition. Earlier, he put out three books on “Contemporary Yixing Teapots,” “Heavenly Pieces” and “The Kaynes-Klitz Collection.” He said, “I am the only one promoting 20th century Chinese ceramics artists. Many colleagues are working on the painting side, but I am pioneering contemporary ceramics.”
He is the curator for exhibitions for which he brought over from China “the first masters to visit the West.” In making these visits possible, he showed patience, persistence, and generosity with time. He curates an international potters’ festival that tries every other year to win the participation of top Japanese and American potters. Next year he will be curating an exhibition that includes Chinese ceramics, jade and ivory in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Wain is the sole agent in the U.K. of the Chinese potter Zlai Xaio Xiang, whom he has brought to demonstrate at his stand at Olympia. Wain still travels frequently to China, researching for a forthcoming major book on Chinese porcelain. He lives nowadays in Anglesey, which he finds “a nice place for calming down.” He says he is still “absolutely fascinated” by ceramics whether historical or modern. “A good pot is a good pot, whether it is old or contemporary,” he said.