Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
Imari Ware – The Beauty of Sometsuke (古伊万里 – 染付の美展)
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, in 2015 and 2016 organized a series of four special exhibitions:
- Early Imari Ware (初期伊万里展) (4 April 2015 – 21 June 2015) (no posting available on this exhibition)
- 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 parts 1, 2 and 3 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, and as mentioned previously, it’s not shards we are talking about here…), have a look at the previous postings:
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 1) (Engl.)
Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 2) (Engl.)
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)
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 3) (Engl.)
Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
Masterpieces of Nabeshima Ware (鍋島焼展)
While we were looking at some extraordinarily fine examples of the so-called “Kakiemon” (柿右衛門), “Kinrande” (金襴手) and “Nabeshima” (鍋島) ware in the first three postings, with a new series of exhibitions we turn our interest to the beauty and simplicity of the “sometsuke” (染付け) this time. As you may remember from the previous exhibitions, “sometsuke” is one of the styles found already in the very early works of Japanese porcelain. The most striking of its features is the underglaze blue – further developed and refined during the first hundred years of Japanese porcelain production.
And again, the special opportunity to have a private tour of the Toguri Museum of Art was offered by the incomparable Alice Gordenker – 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 6 June 2016.
As before, let’s have a look at an example of very early stage of porcelain making in Japan – which will also allow you the appreciate the astounding progress that had been made in the fabrication of those fine works of art in a fairly short period of time. Also, since only part 3 of my little porcelain series contains an exhibit of those early days (from about 1610 A.D.) that is called “Shoki Imari” (初期伊万里 / しょきいまり), here is another one of the Toguri Museum’s most famous exhibits from the exhibition “History of Ko-Imari Porcelain” (exhibition room 3):
Dish decorated with landscape design in underglaze blue
As you may remember from the previous postings, this kind of blue colour is called sometsuke (染付 / そめつけ) which is applied underglaze. Compared with later works, the early pieces were quite thick and heavy, and had many imperfections. Have a closer look at the enormous plate and you will see brown stains in the glazing – impurities in the used materials that turned rusty brown during the process of burning.
Let’s get a little further into detail about “sometsuke”, before we have a look at the fine examples of the exihibition:
Sometsuke is the Japanese word for a cobalt-based underglaze blue. Also pieces made with this kind of decoration are called “sometsuke” (染付 / そめつけ). In a very simplified way the process of “making sometsuke” could be explained as follows: Make your piece of clay, let it either dry or “bisquit fire” it (which means: put it in a kiln at relatively low temperatures – that will dry and strengthen the piece and will also make the surface smoother). After that you can decorate your piece with cobalt-based paint – called “gosu” (呉須) in Japanese – which actually looks almost black at that stage. And then dip it in clear glaze. Once put in the kiln at about 1,350°C, the cobalt miraculously turns into the beautiful blue that you will see in the exhibits to follow – and their development in craft and style over approximately 100 years of Japanese porcelain making.
By the way: Sometsuke techniques were first seen in China around the 14th century, and spread to Korea and Vietnam in the 15th century.
FIRST EXHIBITION ROOM
Water jar “Mizusashi”, decorated with Chinese lion-dog and floral scroll design in underglaze blue
This masterpiece of sometsuke is from the second half of the 17th century. Four shishi lions playing among peonies. Very fine lines, beautiful gradations of light and dark blue, good use of white space, very balanced designs.
Dish with flattened rim, decorated with fan design in underglaze blue
This very large plate (called a “hachi / 鉢 / はち in Japanese) is a very fine example of Early, or Shoki Imari. It is not clear exactly when the first porcelain in Japan was made, but the story goes, that it was made in 1616, or exactly 400 years ago, which is why Arita (the “birth place” of Janese porcelain) is in the midst of various 400-year anniversary celebrations and events this year. Japan had been importing Chinese blue-and-white porcelain for hundreds of years before, so when they first started domestic production, they quickly adopted the same methods for decoration. Have a look at the thickness of the dish, and how it is quite warped. The shape is not even. Notice the very small foot. There are even fingerprints left by the potter during glazing. Have a closer look at the impurities that led to brown burns during the process of burning. Still, this gorgeous dish would be considered a luxury item in its days – nothing for average people, but for daimyo (the feudal lords of old Japan) and the like.
Dish with flattened rim, decorated with egret design in underglaze blue
Although the industry was still new, even in early Imari, potters did get a range of expressions, which they accomplished through various techniques. Have a closer look. For this dish lines were created on a wheel, while the bird is created by scraping off the sometsuke, in a process called “kaki-otoshi” (掻き落とし / かきおとし).
Water jar, “Mizusashi / 水指 / みずさし”, decorated with flower and butterfly design in underglaze blue
Here we have a fine example for the technique called “kaki-otoshi” (掻き落とし / かきおとし) (I have yet to verify, why the description speaks of “kugibori” (釘彫り / くぎぼり) – which seems to be either a similar technique or…). The white lines in the leaves, forming the veins of the leaf have been drawn after painting on the sometsuke and before it was dipped in the clear glaze.
Bottle, decorated with camellia design in underglaze blue
Dish, decorated with pine tree, bamboo and plum design in underglaze blue
Dish with foliated rim, decorated with landscape design in underglaze blue
Dish, decorated with landscape and pavilion design in underglaze blue
Dishes, decorated with quail and horestail design in underglaze blue
Rectangular dishes, decorated with fish and swirly river design in underglaze blue
Leaf of taro-shaped dishes, decorated in underglaze blue
The technique of decoration you can see here is called “sumihajiki” (墨弾き / すみはじき), a color-resist method in which designs are laid down in a special ink that burns off during firing, leaving in its place thin white lines within the blue. This method creates a softer expression. This technique was developed in Japan and previously unknown in China.
Dishes with foliated rim, decorated with flower plants and paulownia design in underglaze blue
Octagonal dishes, decorated with flower design in underglaze blue
Bottle, decorated with scroll design in underglaze blue
Bowl with bridge handle, decorated with net pattern design in underglaze blue
Gourd-shaped ewer with handle, decorated with floral scroll design in underglaze blue
All square bottle, decorated with fower-and-bird design in underglaze blue
Dish in Carrack style, decorated with flower-and-bird design in underglaze blue
This piece was surely made for export purposes as the sign in the centre of the plate indicates it’s use for the Dutch East India Company.
SECOND EXHIBITION ROOM
Dishes, decorated with snowed brushwood fence design in underglaze blue
Fan-shaped dishes, decorated with snowed brushwood fence design in underglaze blue
Irregular shaped bowls, decorated with pomegranate design in underglaze blue
Dish with foliated rim, decorated with sea shell and flower design in underglaze blue
Bowls, decorated with snowflakes design in underglaze blue
Dish with foliated rim, decorated with iris and poetry paper design in underglaze blue
Dish with flattened rim, decorated with grass and heron design in sprayed blue and white
The technique to be seen here is called “fukizumi” (吹墨 / ふきずみ). Cobalt is sprayed onto the surface of a piece, often around a stencil, creating the most impressive shapes and shadows, as you can see in this exhibit.
Cups, decorated with willow and check pattern design in underglaze blue
Octagonal bowls, decorated with chrysanthemum design in underglaze blue
Have a look a bit further below: One of these precious bowls were among those items we were allowed to touch at the end of the guided tour.
Celadon dishes, decorated with plum design in underglaze blue
The very stylish celadon glazing you can see in this and the next exhibits is called “seiji” (青磁 / せいじ) in Japanese, also indicating that Japanese have a somewhat different (or: ambiguous) reception of blue or green.
Boat-shaped celadon dishes, decorated with wave design in underglaze blue
Celadon bowl, decorated with flower design in underglaze blue
There is something very special about this bowl: A replica of this item, manufactured by Kimimori Nakamura (中村公法 / なかむらきみのり), can be bought at the Toguri Museum of Art – for just 8,000 Yen (which is next to nothing compared with the price of the “original”). And this is how beautiful and perfect the replica looks like:
Dish with flattened ring, decorated with chintz pattern design in underglaze blue and celadon blue
Leaf-shaped celadon dish with three feet, decorated with bird and pine tree design in underglaze blue
Dishes with flattened rim, decorated with grass and insect design in underglaze blue and underglaze red
Dish with flattened rim, decorated with flower and butterfly design in underglaze blue und underglaze red
There is one particularly interesting piece to be seen in the exhibition with quite vividly explains the process of porcelain making. This beautiful dish was manufactured by Kimimori Nakamura (中村公法 / なかむらきみのり) – the master-potter who also created the replica of exhibit no. 67 – in 1997.
It clearly demonstrates: Old sometsuke is a gem, but the tradition of this art is living on and is being further refined.
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 is particularly impressive, as the older the works the more “tactible” their little imperfections in their making are -but also the texture created by applied colours and enamel and being able to recognise small details was – again – astonishing. Even though such an opportunity doesn’t come everyday – the museum is worthwhile seeing nevertheless.
Have these pictures triggered some further interest in you? Than take note of the next exhibitions that have been scheduled as follows:
Imari Ware: Karakusa Design
(2 July – 22 September 2016)
Toguri Museum of Art (戸栗美術館) (Part 5)
– Japanese Porcelain at its Finest
– The Toguri Collection: The Original Exhibition
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.