Moon Jars were made in Korea from the mid-17th to mid-18th century. They are large, white, porcelain storage jars and there are only twenty left in the world. Thrown in two sections and joined in the middle led to many not surviving firing in the kiln.
The Austrian potter Lucie Rie kept a Moon Jar in her London studio for 50 years. It is a magnificent example of the ceramic art of the Joseon period when plain white porcelain represented the epitome of Confucian taste. A portrait by society photographer Lord Snowdon has Rie, herself dressed all in white, seated beside the jar.
It was bought in 1935 in an antique shop in Seoul by the British potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979). He gave it to Lucie Rie (1902-95), who bequeathed it to Janet Leach. The British Museum acquired it from her estate in 1999 together with a letter from Bernard Leach to Lucie Rie asking her to collect the jar from a friend’s house and look after it during the 1939-45 War. In the event, when Leach saw the jar in Rie’s London studio, it fitted in so naturally that he decided that it should remain there.
The maehwa tree is a Korean apricot or plum (Korean commentators note that neither translation is strictly accurate). It heralds spring and its edible fruit can be used to make an alcoholic beverage or to produce a slightly sweet-tasting juice that is good for the digestion. Maehwa is one of the sagunja (“four noble beings”) motifs often used by Korean artists, who consider it symbolic of a spirit that overcomes all hardship. As did the indomitable Lucie Rie and her Moon Jar.