The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

The IMARI porcelain

Friday 26 February 2016, by Barbara Cogollos

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

IMARI is the name of a small port in the north western part of the island of Kyushu. According to the tradition, this is a Korean potter Ri Sam-Pyong, who discovered in 1616, a large deposit of kaolin around 15km from IMARI near a village called Arita in Japan. Moreover, the region has all the necessary elements for the implementation of an activity such as porcelain. Indeed the abundance of wood and water - essential to the development of the dough and baking in the ovens - are present in large quantities in the region of Arita. Most importantly, the entire northwest coast of Kyushu is sloping, which will develop complex ovens built in difference in height and thus obtaining different temperatures needed for cooking porcelain.

But the discovery of this deposit of Kaolin in Japan coincides with serious internal problems in China. The Chinese economy being weakened, the famous porcelain manufacturing "white, blue" is increasingly reduced to almost disappear with the last Ming emperor.

Eastern Company of the United Provinces, intends to conduct the business of porcelain and is turning to the Japanese production to address the lack of Chinese production.

The progress of Art workshops are very fast. Although they begin with delivering porcelain "white, blue" Japanese fold quickly to the taste the Western Partners. Even China will eventually turn to Japan to provide them in porcelain.

Then, Arita workshops discover and perfect the technique of polychrome enamels, with this discovery the Japanese introduce a new taste that Western want to have.

In the seventeenth century, during the reign of Emperor Qing, economic and political stability has returned to China. The country raise its production of porcelain by adding, of course, the discoveries of IMARI porcelain. We are witnessing to the production of Chinese porcelain in polychrome enamels.

But although the resemblance is striking and there are significant differences; the sets are simplified by the Chinese workshops, there is also an iconographic changement. Less animal representations but many more plant representations and less asymmetry decorations. Notably, the mixing of Western and Asian artistic discoveries affect both sides and we are witnessing to the production of pieces with a european view. More forms of Chinese porcelains are increasingly near Western dishes. Note that the Chinese polychrome porcelain is better quality than the Japanese, in fact, more transparent, more durable, it is the result of centuries of knowledge.

In 1828, fire in Arita and IMARI region cause a growing scarcity of Japanese porcelain.

In 1853, Japan opened to Western which undoubtedly benefits the Japanese manufactures and workshops. The IMARI porcelain is now more exported. That’s when it acquires its pedigree. The palette becomes more sober, technical blue under glaze "sometsuke" and the following colors applied directly to the glaze "aka-e" are emerging. The porcelain production cost is reduced, they become more competitive. And is the emergence of the three dominant colors, orange-red, blue, white, enhanced by gold. We are also witnessing the birth of IMARI sets so well known today that have remained virtually unchanged since. It settled an iconography that showcases animals (dog, phoenix etc) but also to plants (bamboo, chrysanthemum, prunus etc).

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