The bodhisattva's serene expression and the fluid lines of the robe are well matched by the qualities of Dehua porcelain, with its soft lustrous ivory color and flawless surface. Dehua ware vessels as well as figures were among the first porcelains imported to the west, where they became known as blanc de chine due to the white color.
This hollow figure was first molded from a fine white paste and then carved with a knife. The flowing and graceful forms recall the look of ivory carving, and it may be that the first porcelain figures like this were inspired by ivory figurines. An impressed seal on the back gives the name of Chaochun, one of the most famous potters working in Dehua in the seventeenth century. This figure, however, is from the late eighteenth century.
Guanyin is known as the bodhisattva of compassion. In Buddhist belief, bodhisattvas are beings who have attained enlightenment but have chosen to delay nirvana and remain as helpers to mankind. Guanyin, originally a male bodhisattva in India, came to be identified as a woman in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist belief. Thus, figures like this one have both masculine and feminine qualities.
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication Decorative Arts, Part II: Far Eastern Ceramics and Paintings, Persian and Indian Rugs and Carpets, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/decorative-arts-part-ii.pdf
probably falsely on the back, the name of a 17th century potter, He Chaochun, enclosed in an impressed gourd-shaped seal
Harry G. Steele [1881-1942], Pasadena; his widow, Grace C. Steele [d. 1974]; gift 1972 to NGA.
The glaze, which covers only the exterior of the hollow figure, is uniformly colorless.
- Bower, Virginia, Josephine Hadley Knapp, Stephen Little, and Robert Wilson Torchia. Decorative Arts, Part II: Far Eastern Ceramics and Paintings; Persian and Indian Rugs and Carpets. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 150-151, color repro.