Japanese Ceramic Styles

From 1659, Japan's fledgling blue and white export industry flourished. However, it was Japan's innovative, colourful wares that provoked a European frenzy in the 1680s. Two distinct enamelled wares were developed by the VOC, a delicate Kakiemon style and a bolder Imari style. Production peaked from 1690 through 1725, but faced with cheaper Chinese exports, trade ceased by 1745. Western demand continued, especially for Kakiemon, prompting European potters to imitate these wares.

Kakiemon style (1680-1725)

Kakiemon wares had simple, asymmetrical designs exposing a fine milk-white body. A brilliant palette of cerulean blue, soft-coral red, green, yellow and black enamels was applied onto the glazed surface and fired again at a lower temperature. Several independent enamelling studios were active in Arita, one was owned by the Kakiemon family from whom the whole category of ware takes its name.

Kakiemon-style bowl, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.293-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Kakiemon-style bowl with pomegranate and peony design, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.293-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Kakiemon-style bowl, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. FE.83-1970, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Kakiemon-style bowl with 'Three Friends of Winter' design, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. FE.83-1970, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Kakiemon imitations and deceptions (1720-55)

From 1700 Dutch enamellers copied Kakiemon designs onto less expensive white porcelain. Aristocratic demand for Kakiemon in Paris, spawned a plot (foiled in 1731) to sell counterfeit Meissen copies of Japanese originals from Augustus the Strong's collection. Elsewhere tin was deliberately added to the glaze to imitate the milk-white body, at Chantilly in France, from 1735 and at Chelsea in 1750.

Bowl, Meissen porcelain factory, 1729-1731. Museum no. 7327-1860, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Given by Queen Victoria.

Bowl, Meissen porcelain factory, 1729-1731. Museum no. 7327-1860, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Given by Queen Victoria.

Saucer, Meissen porcelain factory, 1729-1731. Museum no. C.575&A-1922, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saucer, Meissen porcelain factory, 1729-1731. Museum no. C.575&A-1922, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

English Kakiemon (1760-1840)

Kakiemon was popular in England longer than in any other country. Improved technology meant these luxury wares were affordable by the middle classes. Designs were simplified into easily copied patterns. Bow specialized in Kakiemon patterns from 1750, while from 1760 Worcester adapted Kakiemon patterns in increasingly confused and exotic designs into the 1820s.

Plate with partridge design, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1755. Museum no. C.1005-1924, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Plate with partridge design, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1755. Museum no. C.1005-1924, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Plate with pheasant and plant design, Worcester porcelain factory, about 1765. Museum no. C.422A-1935

Plate with pheasant and plant design, Worcester porcelain factory, about 1765. Museum no. C.422A-1935, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imari style (1690-1740)

Imari wares are bold and ostentatious, characterized by dense patterns. Typically, the Imari palette includes underglaze blue, iron-red enamel and gold. The term Imari derives from the name of the port near Arita from where porcelain was transhipped to Nagasaki for sale to Chinese and Dutch merchants. The 'Chrysanthemum', a frequent motif, symbolized autumn and was the crest of the imperial family.

Imari style jug and lid, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.1520&A-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imari-style jug and lid, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.1520&A-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Salting Bequest.

Imari-style bottle, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.1518-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imari-style bottle, Arita, Japan, 1690-1720. Museum no. C.1518-1910, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Salting Bequest.

'Japan' style

In the 1810s, the opulent Imari style was revived for a middle-class desiring exotic-looking goods. The taste was contemporary with George IV's Brighton Pavilion, a fantastic fusion of Asian and Indian styles. The terms 'India' or 'Japan' marketed richly gilded wares of vague Oriental origin. Amusingly, this style became a quintessentially English china pattern, popular at Spode and Derby, where it is still manufactured.

Plate with 'Japan' design, Spode Ceramic Works, about 1815. Museum no. C.725-1935, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Plate with 'Japan' design, Spode Ceramic Works, about 1815. Museum no. C.725-1935, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saucer 
with imitation Imari design, Derby Porcelain factory, 1825-1848. Museum 
no. 3032-1901, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saucer with imitation Imari design, Derby Porcelain factory, 1825-1848. Museum no. 3032-1901, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Japanese Art and Design (New Edition)

Japanese Art and Design (New Edition)

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