Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
Imari Ware – Masterpieces of the Kakiemon and Kinrande style (柿右衛門・古伊万里金襴手展)
Under the title “The First 100 Years of Japanese Porcelain”, the Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館 / とぐりびじゅつかん), a private museum in Shibuya’s Shōtō district, founded in 1987, that is solely dedicated to porcelain, this year organized a series of four special exhibitions:
- Early Imari Ware (初期伊万里展) (4 April 2015 – 21 June 2015)
- Imari Ware – The Ko-Kutani style (古九谷展) (4 July 2015 – 23 September 2015)
- Imari Ware – Masterpieces of the Kakiemon and Kinrande style (柿右衛門・古伊万里金襴手展) (6 October 2015 – 23 December 2015)
- Masterpieces of Nabeshima Ware (鍋島焼展) (7 January 2016 – 21 March 2016)
In part 1 of my little series of articles on the Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館 / とぐりびじゅつかん) you have learnt already some basics of the history of Japanese porcelain. If you are here for the first time (or should memory provide you with bits and pieces only – after all, it’s not shards we are talking about here…), have a look at the previous posting:
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 1) (Engl.)
– Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
While we were looking at some extraordinarily fine examples of the so-called “Ko-Kutani” (古九谷) style last time, this time it’s all about the “Kakiemon” (柿右衛門) and “Kinrande” (金襴手) styles in Imari (伊万里) ware.
From about the middle of the 17th century, Arita potters were able to further improve their techniques, resulting in thinner pieces and a brighter, whiter porcelain base referred to as nigoshide (濁手). They also developed a style of highly colorful decoration dominated by bright red tones. Using these two innovations, they fashioned delicate dishes and figurines of women in kimono that catered to Western ideas of Eastern beauty. This was the beginning of what is now called the “Kakiemon” (柿右衛門) style in Japanese porcelain.
By the end of the 17th century/early 18th century, when China, previously weakened by political and social unrest, came back into the game and Japan had to face its tough competition again, potters in Arita responded by adapting their designs and patterns with an eye to larger-scale production. The resulting Kinrande (金襴手) style in Imari ware is characterized by symmetrical and repeating patterns suited to mass production, yet also featured dazzling decoration rendered in gold on top of enamels on top of underglaze blue. In Europe, large jars and dishes in this style came to grace the palaces of kings and nobles. At the same time, an extended period of peace and stability in Japan had enriched the merchant class, and they too sought out porcelain in the Kinrande style as items of great luxury.
For the exhibition approximately 80 masterpieces of Imari ware dating from the second half of the 17th century to the first half of the 18th century were selected. And some of them you can admire below. But take my word for it: Photos are a rather sad substitute for “the real thing”! Nevertheless, click on the pictures to see enlarged versions.
To start with: What is the Kakiemon style? Here is the perfect example!
Foliated dish with two cranes
It’s perfect, because it meets all five conditions that characterise the Kakiemon style:
- Formed using a mold. First thrown on a wheel, then pressed into a mold made of clay, excess clay cleaned off the edge. Vases and jars were formed with more than one piece of molded clay.
- Nigoshide milky-white base. That means that the base clay and clear glaze that went on top of it were made with extra care to remove impurities (as were found in some of the exhibits previously introduced)
- Leaving empty space in the design so the pretty white base can be seen and complement the design. In Japanese aesthetics, there is a concept of “the beauty of empty space” (余白の美 / よはくのび).
- Colorful design using lots of bright red, which makes the white base look even whiter and brighter.
- Finished with iron-brown glaze around the edge of the rim, called “fuchisabi”, completes the design nicely.
Except for the beauty of the plate’s painting, also the backside of it tells you quite a story – have a look! Do you see the hole on the top? When this hole was subject to a closer inspection under a microscope, it became obvious that it was drilled afterwards. Most likely, after the plate had left Japan in order to be able to hang it on a wall for decoration (something that wasn’t usually done in Japan).
Dish with ten sided rim, decorated with tiger, bamboo and plum design
Yet another perfect excample for the Kakiemon style!
The plate actually comes in three different sizes with the same pattern. Most likely made as a dining set for export to Europe.
Figure of a woman
Another type of product strongly associated with the Kakiemon style are figures of people and animals. Called “okimono” (置物 / おきもの) in Japanese – as the name indictates, they are just for decoration. Figurines like that were produced in large quantities based on molds and varying only in painted details. Because such pieces are hollow, and air expands when heated, the potters had to think of a way to release pressure so their work wouldn’t explode during firing. Therefore there is a small hole in the mouth to allow air to escape. Rumour has it that this figurine was modeled after a famous courtesan.
Dish decorated with flower-and-bird design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Large plates like this are seen in many museums and castles in Europe. This type of product was clearly made for export in some quantity, but still a luxury product that was intended for kings and nobility. Because they were made for display in the large spaces of palaces, the dishes were big, the designs were big, and the coloration was very bold and gorgeous, so it could be seen and appreciated from even a distance. A great deal of gold added to the splendor. Here the black outline was probably protected with a light coating of purple.
Vessel, Kendhi, decorated with Chinese lion-dog design in overglaze enamels
This sort of pouring vessel, with a spout but no handle, is called a “kendi,” a word that comes from the Malay language. The Chinese began manufacturing this sort of vessel in the fourteenth century, and they were widely used in Southeast Asia for water and alcoholic drinks. Japanese potters in Arita made them as well, for export, so there are many examples in Imari ware. On this very colorful piece, nicely accented with bright red vermilion, the flared top is decorated with a pattern of clouds. Throughout, one can see outlines painted in black overglaze, but much of that detail has worn off.
Bottle, decorated with Chinese boy and autumnal grasses design in overglaze enamels.
An early example for the Kakiemon style made for export – have a look at he background; it’s still slightly blueish or greyish and doesn’t have the perfect white of later works (ok, I admit, that doesn’t really show on the photo – but, as I said earlier, you have to go and have a look yourself).
Dish, decorated with a pair of quails (鶉 / うずら) under the arching bamboo, plum tree and millet design in overglaze enamels
This is a particularly fine example of the Kakiemon style at its zenith. The eye is drawn in to the center composition, which depicts a pair of quails under bamboo, plum blossoms and millet, by the skillful use of empty space in the milky-white nigoshide background and the fuchisabi circle of rust-brown glaze around the edge of the rim. One sees the tremendous achievement of the Kakiemon style in the graceful lines of the plants and the fine detail in the quails’ feathers. The coloration on this piece is excellent and masterfully executed, and the high quality of the milky-white nigoshide base reflects the light to make the color in the overglaze enamels appear lively and bright. Used black to draw the feathers on the back, and light yellow to draw the feathers on the tummy, and the outlines are incredibly fine.
Square bottle, decorated with autumnal flower design in overglaze enamels
A pair of Chinese lion-dog, Shishi (獅子 / しし) figures, decorated in overglaze enamels
Figure of a chicken, decorated in overglaze enamels
This figurine of a cockerel, or rooster, is very colorful, with its bright red comb and feathers rendered in red, blue, green, yellow and black on a pure white base. Three-dimensional pieces such like this were made in clay molds that allowed for fine detail such as the realistic beak, legs and feathers that appear soft and light. The Burghley House in England has a very similar piece in its collection.
Insect cage-shaped bowl with cover, decorated with grape design in overglaze enamel
Dish, decorated with flower-and-bird design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Mokkō-shaped dishes, decorated with pine tree, bamboo, plum and autumnal flower design in underglaze blue and overglaze enamels
Room two, Kinrande style
In this room, we can see examples of very large dishes and jars that were made for export. They were displayed in palaces of the nobility in Europe, in very large rooms, so they needed to be large with large designs to have good impact. And gold seemed to be the one element that made them look even richter.
Jar with cover, decorated with Chinese lion-dog und peony flower, plum and chrysanthenum design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
This covered jar is the largest piece in the exhibit – probably not used for anything. Even though the shape reminds on the so-called “ginger jars”, it might be simply too large for that purpose. Also the lid doesn’t fit well. Probably used in a porcelain cabinet as interior decoration.
Cylindrial vessel with squirrel knobbed cover, decorated with plum and peony design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Dish, decorated with floral paint design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
This unusually shaped dish, with a large semi-circle cut out of the rim, is called a barber’s dish or shaving dish, and was made for export to Europe. There are two holes at the top through which a string was run for hanging. The shape is copied from metal dishes used for shaving by barbers in Europe; the cutaway portion was placed under the customer’s chin. The center of this dish is decorated with a lively design of flowers surrounded by a dense pattern of leaves done in sometsuke (染付 / そめつけ) underglaze blue and embellished with gold. Over this, designs of peony flowers were painted in red overglaze enamel. There are chrysanthemum flowers around the rim. The underside is decorated in three places with a design of flowering plum branches, and there is one stilt mark within the high foot.
Figure of a man, “machishū“ (町衆 / まちしゅう), decorated in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
The two figures shown as nos. 43 and 44 of the exhibition give you a glimpse of what happened at the end of the 17th century/early 18th century, when not only China resumed exporting porcelain, but also potters in Germany’s Meissen found a way to make it. Japanese producers were forced to cut cost and to speed up production. If you compare these two figurines with exhibit no 3, you will find that these two are much less refined.
Figure of a boy, “wakashū (若衆 / わかしゅう), decorated in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Bowl, decorated with dragon and phoenix design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Bowl, decorated with dragon and phoenix design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
This item is one of the many examples of dishes that are marked with some indication of being historic Chinese porcelain – in this case, from the Ming Dynasty (大明嘉靖年製 / だいみんかせいねんせい). However, this is not supposed to be a blunt way of plagiarism, but a means to pay tribute to the classic Chinese potters and their refined art.
Chrysanthenum-shaped bowl, decorated with dragon, flower and geometric design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Bowl, deocrated interior with a dragon among clouds and circles, and exterior with floral scrolls in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Bowl, decorated with five ships and European figures design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
This is the bowl that may look familiar to you – it’s the one that also graces the admission ticket seen at the top of this posting.
Bowl, decorated with character (壽, longevity) and floral patternd, and exterior with dragon, phoenix and auspicious objects in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Bowls with cover, decorated with red circle and filigree design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Octagonal bowls, decorated with phoenix and floral pattern design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Nest of boxes, decorated with cranes and tortoiseshell pattern design in overglaze enamels and gold
Octagonal dish, decorated with a pair of quails and millet design in underglaze blue
Dish, decorated with flower basket design in underglaze blue
Dish, decorated with peach and finger citron design in underglaze blue
This is a very fine object to see, if something was made for export (which can usually be told from the fact that the shape of an object is “not Japanese”). Take a look at the mark in the middle of this dish. It’s actually VOC and that stands for “Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie.” Hence, it’s pretty clear that this is something that was ordered by the company, perhaps for use on their ships, in company headquarters, or perhaps their trading outpost in Batavia.
Dish with foliated rim, decorated with rock and paulownia design in overglaze enamels
Dish decorated with dragon and floral pattern design in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
Dish decorated with paved pattern design in underglaze blue and overglaze enamels
Dish, decorated with tied thin strips, bow and arrow in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gold
As said in my previous posting: Don’t get yourself confused by the fact that you see so many pictures of the exhibition here – photography is basically not permitted in the museum. But all the pictures were taken on the very special occasion of a guided tour given by Alice Gordenker (in cooperation with the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde” in Tōkyō) – who has also largely contributed to the narration of this posting – and the executive of the Toguri Museum of Art, Mr. Osamu Toguri (戸栗修 / とぐりおさむ) himself on 9 December 2015.
Again one of the highlights of this exclusive guided tour was an opportunity to view, touch and photograph up close rare museum-quality examples of Japanese porcelain from the Edo Period. The physical sensation of actually touching such old porcelain, feeling the little imperfections in their making, the texture created by applied colours and enamel and being able to recognise small details was really astonishing. Even though such an opportunity doesn’t come everyday – the museum is worthwhile seeing nevertheless.
Should all that have triggered some fascination for Japanese porcelain, have a look at the following, countinuing exhibitions at the Toguri Museum of Art:
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 4)
– Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
– Imari Ware – The Beauty of Sometsuke (古伊万里 – 染付の美展)
Toguri Bijutsukan (Toguri Museum of Art)
1-11-3 Shōtō, Shibuya-ku
The museum’s facebook link:
The museum’s internet representation:
Daily (except Mondays) from 10 am to 5 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm).
Should Monday be a national holiday, the museum stays closed the next day. Also closed during the preparation of new exhibitions and during the new year holidays.
Adults: 1,000 Yen
High school and university students: 700 Yen
Junior high school and elementary school students: 400 Yen
Discounts of 200 Yen per person for groups of 20 an more visitors
How to get there:
It is probably the easiest to approach the museum from Shibuya’s main station where various train lines and subway lines stop.
Take the “Hachikō Exit“ (ハチ公口 / あちこうぐち), cross the famous “Pedestrian Scramble“ (スクランブル交差点 / すくらんぶるこうさてん) and head north towards the just as famous department store “109“, leave it on your left side and walk towards the “Bunkamura“ (文化村 / ぶんかむら). Pass the Bunkamura on its south side and turn right at its southwestern corner. The museum is located in a rather residential area uphill. It will take you at least 15 minutes to get there from the station.