Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - Japanese

Although much less is definitely known about Japanese pottery and porcelain than about Chinese wares, the porcelain of Japan has, in the past, often been much more eagerly sought, especially that decorated in the manner of Sakaida Kakiemon. When the Meissen factory began to copy Oriental porcelain in the 1720s they derived inspiration from the Japanese porcelain collection of the Elector, Augustus the Strong, which he had obtained from Dutch suppliers, and when Augustus bought a palace to house his collection he called it the Japanische Palais. In France, about the same time, a factory at Chantilly belonging to the Prince de Condé devoted itself to copying the decorations of Kakiemon. The copies of Chelsea in the early 1750s were so close that they have occasionally been mistaken for Japanese.

Following the reopening of trade with Japan by Commodore Perry of the U .S. Navy in 1853 Japanese pottery and porcelain once more became extremely fashionable, attracting the attention of collectors like the brothers Concourt in Paris, and during the last quarter of the nineteenth century Japanese influence played an important part in the development of Art Nouveau.

The ceramic art in Japan is very ancient, but the early wares are hardly known in the West. The earliest is a black coiled pottery known as Jomon ware, once thought to belong, at the latest, to the first millennium B.C. but now considered to have its origin at a much earlier date. Yayoi pottery is more or less contemporary with the Chinese Han dynasty, and the latter variety includes tomb-figures known as haniwa, so called because they encircled burial mounds. Haniwa means, literally, 'clay circle'. These wares are harldy to be seen outside specialist museum collections.

Until the Nara period [710-794], when the Court established itself at Nara, no very great technical advances were made. The principal manufacture was a grey-bodied stoneware, unglazed, and Korean in style. At this time potters began to master coloured glazes, and such centers as Bizen, Omi, Iga, and Owari first made domestic wares. [p. 427]

At the beginning of the thirteenth century Kato Shirozayemon journeyed to China to study the art of potting, especially the making of black-glazed teabowls, then much valued by the Japanese for use in the Tea Ceremony [cha-no-yu] and by them called temmoku. On his return he founded kilns at Seto [Owari] where he started to make similar bowls.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century the victorious Hideyoshi returned from Korea, bringing potters with him. They settled at a number of new centers like Kyoto, Karatsu, Takatori, and Satsuma, and started to produce wares in current Korean styles. Under the influence of the Tea Masters fashion in Tea Ceremony wares began to change from the Chinese Sung Dynasty black glazed wares to more summarily made and decorated Korean peasant wares.

A Korean potter named Ameya [d. 1574] devised a new and popular type of teabowl which was first made about 1525, and continued by his son, Chojiro. These teabowls were brought to the notice of Hideyoshi in 1588, and he awarded Hojiro a gold seal engraved with the word raku, which means 'enjoyment' or 'felicity'. The manufacture of raku ware spread widely. It was a kind of earthenware fired at a very low temperature on a hearth, and covered with a treacly glaze which fused at a similar temperature. At first black or dark brown, then light red, the raku glaze became straw-coloured in the seventeenth century, and then green, cream, and other colours, either alone or in combination. The ware itself was thick and roughly potted, usually with an irregular shape and surface. Often the form was deliberately distorted still further by squeezing it before firing.

In origin the Tea Ceremony was Zen Buddhist and the utensils were required to be of refined and simple shapes covered with a good glaze of restrained colour or colours, but the introduction of raku ware led to a cult of the primitive which caused the arbiters of taste, the Tea Masters, to search for objects of unique form with striking accidental glaze effects. This cult has not, in the past, appealed to English collectors, but it has found a good deal of favour in France, even in the nineteenth c. The collection of the Goncourt brothers was sold in 1890s, the sale catalogued by Samuel Bing, whose gallery, L'Art Nouveau, gave its name to the style.

Another development took place at Awata early in the seventeenth century, where a cream coloured stoneware with a finely crackled glaze was first made. This became the medium for some distinguished painting by Kenzan [1660-1743]. Even more celebrated was Ninsei, more or less contemporary with Kenzan, who painted in enamel colours and silver and gold. The Dohachi family worked in styles similar to those of Ninsei, and a school of enamelling grew up in and around the region. The earliest Satsuma pottery belongs to the end of the eighteenth century when it was enamelled sparsely and in good taste. The type of grossly overdecorated 'Satsuma', developed towards the end of the nineteenth century to appeal to the uniformed taste of the West for the quaintly Oriental, is hardly to be taken seriously.

Bizen ware, made at Imb┌e in Bizen Province, is traditionally said to date from the fourteenth century. The later wares are in a red or bluish-brown stoneware [the latter colour often with a metallic sheen] in which were made Tea Ceremony wares, vases, and figures of animals. The body is not unlike that if Yi-Hsing stoneware, the wares of which were copied.

Banko wares take their name from that adopted by an amateur potter, Gonzayemon [1736-95], whose output was both varied and prolific. He copied raku wares, Satsuma, the Ming 'red and green family'. Dutch delft [then being imported into Japan] and the work of Kenzan and Ninsei. Some of these wares were continued during the nineteenth century by the man who bought the original formulae.

Japanese pottery is a very difficult field. It is badly documented, and attributions are frequently uncertain. A pot in the style of a particular artist was often signed with his name as a tribute, much in the same way as the Ch'ing potters in China put Ming reign-marks on their porcelain. Japanese pottery is difficult to classify because wares made in different places may be given the same name. They may be called by the name of a province, a town, the principal market, the name of a Tea Master, or that of a ruling prince. Potters rejoice in several names. For instance, Kenzan was called Ogata, Shinsho, Sansho, Shinzaburo, and so on. For the most part, therefore, there is little point in trying to arrive at exact attributions or dates. Specimens of the work of masters like Kenzan and Ninsei are rare in Japan, and there must be few, if any, in the West, even in France where more attention has been devoted to Japanese pottery than anywhere else. The collector is therefore forced to rely on taste rather than knowledge to an extent which prevails in few other fields.

A different scale of values applies to Japanese porcelain, partly because it was never greatly influence by the Tea Masters. Traditionally the art of [p. 428] porcelain-making was brought to Japan from China by Gorodoyu-go Shonsui in the first half of the sixteenth c. Little use was made of the knowledge for nearly a hundred years, and the first kilns were established in the early decades of the 17th c. at Arita in Hizen Province close to a source of raw materials. The first wares were painted in underglaze blue, but the first Sakaida Kakiemon [born 1590] is reputed to have learned the art of enameling in colour around 1644. Enamelling remained the secret of the Sakaida family for many years thereafter.

In 1641 the Dutch were given a trading concession and were awarded a trading station on the minute island of Deshima at Nagasaki, which was small enough to be circumnavigated during the course of a leisurely after-dinner promenade. Very soon large quantities of Arita porcelain, made to order, were being shipped to Holland. Arita was sometimes willing to make special export shapes, but they were less inclined to decorate to order. They did, however, supply porcelain 'in white' for export which the Dutch painted in their own studios in Antwerp and Delft.

By the last decades of the seventeenth century the third Sakaida Kakiemon was painting Arita porcelain in an attractive asymmetrical style, with a distinctive palette consisting of a soft iron-red, a bluish-green, light blue, yellow, and [occasionally] slight gilding. Specimens in which the blue is underglaze are the earliest. This style became so popular in Europe that vast quantities were imported and extensively copied. The Chinese also copied the Japanese wares for the European market and their own. Their copies lack the bluish-green, while the Japanese red is thicker and darker. Chinese wares also lack the 'stilt' marks [three or four defects in the glaze inside the footring], which are invariable in the case of Arita wares and Chelsea copies. These 'stilt' marks were the points of support in the kiln during firing.

The most attractive features of Kakiemon decoration is simplicity, and a careful balancing of areas of white porcelain against the pointed decoration, with a carefully judged asymmetry which is a characteristic of most Japanese art.

The shapes employed by the Arita kilns differ considerably from those of China. Octagonal deep dishes, bowls, and vases are frequent, and those of square section not uncommon. Some difficulty may have been experienced in firing objects of circular section without distortion in the natural mixture of clay and fusible rock employed. Japanese porcelain is usually thicker than comparable Chinese wares, and the glaze has a musliny texture, not unlike the Chinese 'chicken skin', due to the body being fired to biscuit before glazing. When this effect is absent an attribution to a Japanese kiln becomes very doubtful.

Typical Kakiemon patterns are the 'quail' the 'tyger and wheatsheaf' [Korean tiger pattern], the 'banded hedge', the 'Hob in the Well', and many more. The 'quail' pattern is still being used today in European factories.

Also from Arita, beginning at the end of the seventeenth century, are wares, principally dishes and vases, decorated with a blackish underglaze blue, and a thick, dark red as the predominating colours. They were usually painted with chrysanthemums and other flowers, and often with patterns derived from textiles, or with the mon [a Japanese heraldic device]. These wares, made almost entirely for export, were called 'Imari', from the name of the port of shipment near Arita. They were imitated by the Chinese, and they continued to be made until well into the nineteenth century, when both the blue and the red became darker and coarser. The addition of reddish-brown, purple, black, and lilac-blue to the Arita palette are definite evidence of a nineteenth century date.

While Arita was the largest and best known of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century porcelain factories of Japan there were others producing wares of notable quality. The kilns at Kutani in Kaga Province were established in 1664 and closed about 1692. Ao Kutani was decorated with a fine and distinctive green within black outlines, while Ko Kutani is noted for brilliant enamel colouring on a brownish-red [p. 429] patterned background. Saiko Kutani [revived Kutani] belongs to the nineteenth century and was made by kilns in Kaga Province. Early Kutani porcelain is extremely rare.

A factory was founded in the middle of the seventeenth century at Okawachi in Hizen Province by the Prince of Nabeshima helped by Korean potters. Some of the best work has points in common with the Chinese tou ts'ai [contrasting colours]. The designs are outlined in underglaze blue and the colours applied in thin washes. This Ming technique was revived in China itself during the reign of Yung Chêng [1722-36]

About 1710 the Prince of Hirado was responsible for the funding of kilns at Mikawachi [Hizen Province], where Korean potters had been working since the seventeenth century. The wares were small, but of good quality, well painted in a pale underglaze blue, with a certain amount of relief decoration. Celadons were made both at Arita and Mikawachi in imitation of Sung dynasty types, but the body is porcelain rather than stoneware.

These comprise what might well be called the 'classic' wares of Japan. They are becoming much rarer in Europe than they were because Japanese collectors have been buying them back for some years past. Still fairly common are nineteenth-century wares from places like Seto [Owari], Kyoto, Mikawachi, and Shiba. Both Mikawachi and Shiba produced a kind of 'eggshell' porcelain often in the form of tea-services for export. Quality is variable. Kyoto imitated Sung dynasty celadons and the Ming 'red and green' family. Seto made enormous vases painted all over which were exported to Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century. Porcelain imitations of cloisonné enamels on copper were made in the same place.

The commercial porcelain of the nineteenth century for export to the West was often made and decorated to the specification of Western merchants, who had astutely gauged [or should it be 'plumbed'?] Western popular taste. This was a source of considerable apprehension to Japanese official circles, and to Western critics, like Walter Crane. A Japanese Government contribution to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 was an exhibition of pottery and porcelain in native taste. This exhibition later came to England and was purchased by the South Kensington Museum [now the Victoria and Albert Museum]. A small handbook by Sir A. W. Franks, compiled with the aid of Japanese experts, was published, and provided a foundation for a more scholarly appraisal of Japan's contribution to the ceramic art. Today, the Victoria and Albert Museum has the most representative public collection of Japanese wares in England, and there are several important English private collections, principally of porcelain [p. 430]

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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