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 Japan's Seto Imari and More 
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Post Japan's Seto Imari and More
Japan's Seto Imari and More
by: Maurice Robertson

When we think of Japanese antique porcelain, we quite often think of brightly coloured Imari, but not all Japanese Imari was brightly coloured.

One famous, early 19th century porcelain maker at Seto, in Japan's Aichi prefecture, decorated his porcelain in a very distinctive sapphire blue, painting with typically naturalistic, Zen influenced subjects, such as grasses overhung by pines, weathered rock formations with willows and wind blown trees.

"Seto" itself refers to both the city and the style of ceramics that originated there. Seto is also one of Japan's famous "six old kilns".

Porcelain came to Seto rather late. It first appeared in the beginning of the 19th century when Kato Tamikichi returned to Seto from Kyushu Island and successfully fired cobalt blue-decorated porcelain. Tamikichi is, in fact, regarded as "the father of porcelain" in the Seto region.

However, to see the larger picture, we need to look across the long history of Japanese art and design, to identify some of the many influences, both internal and external, which have contributed to today's recognisable "Japanese design".

Until Admiral Perry's opening of Japan to the West, (1854), with its both positive and negative results, Japanese art and design was almost unknown to the Western world. Perry's encounter with Japan opened the flood gates to an East/West exchange of ideas, rarely seen before. It was within a decade that Japanese design concepts arrived in the West.

Two outstanding names will serve to illustrate this influence on Western art. The first, James Whistler, the great American/British painter of the mid to late 19th century, was one of the first westerners to be influenced by the artistic tradition of Japan.

Whistler developed a rather aesthetic response to living and he particularly admired the Japanese artistic attitude to not distinguishing between fine and decorative art. His appreciation of this led Whistler to a wide range of artistic pursuits, heavily influenced by his newfound "art of Japan".

The second example is the master of French impressionism, Claude Monet. We do not know if the famous story of Monet's discovery of Japanese art is true, or anecdotal! but legend has it that Monet had fled to Amsterdam to escape the 1871 Prussian siege of Paris. There, or, so the story goes, he observed some Japanese block prints being used in a food shop as wrapping paper. He could not believe what he was seeing and was so impressed, that he purchased all available. This purchase changed his life — and the history of Western art!

Monet was never shy about his fascination with Japan and its art and in 1876, five years after that visit to the Dutch food shop, he painted "La Japonaise", showing his first wife Camille in a kimono against a background decorated with uchiwa, (Japanese paper fans).

At Giverny, where he moved in 1883 at age 42, he built a Japanese bridge over a Japanese pond in a Japanese garden, and spent the rest of his life painting that private paradise - especially its water lilies.

Not only Western art was influenced by Japan, but, interiors, fashion and all forms of art, style and design. This exchange of ideas was two way, with Western design concepts being used in Japan. Perhaps for that reason Impressionism caught on early in Japan and still remains highly popular.

This exchange of ideas was seen, particularly in the porcelain produced by the great Japanese ceramics kilns, with its one thousand year old tradition.

Until the opening of Japan to the West, Japanese porcelain and pottery was both traditional and highly aesthetic, understood only by, the then, insular and very conservative, Japanese society. The overriding concept was to hold to the rigidly, proscribed forms.

This highly aesthetic style was not understood by a Western audience and it soon became apparent that changes needed to be made for a Western export market to succeed. By example, the Western market is very familiar with Japanese "Imari" porcelain, with it's bright palette of colours, primarily based on iron red and underglaze cobalt blue. This always forms the basic Imari palette, which can then have a range of additional colours added.

This popular Japanese porcelain is called "Imari" due to the fact that it was exported by it's various makers through the port of "Imari". These bright patterns, primarily developed for a Western market were, in fact, based on the patterns of traditional kimono brocaded textiles.

The West's love of Japanese art and design has never faulted and continues to evolve.

About The Author
The Antique & Vintage Table Lamp Co specialise in antique table lamp lighting with an on-line range of over 100 unique, antique and vintage lamps on view. Lamps are shipped ready wired for the U.S, the U.K and Australia. For more information you are invited to visit their web site at

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Sat Feb 26, 2011 12:02 pm
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