When we think of Japanese porcelain, we quite often think of brightly colored Imari, but not all Japanese Imari was brightly colored. One famous early 19th century porcelain maker at Seto, in Japans Aichi Prefecture, decorated his porcelain in a very distinctive sapphire blue, with typical naturalistic, Zen influenced subjects, such as grasses overhung by pines, weathered rock formations with willows and wind blown trees.
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. The Antique and Vintage Table Lamp Co illustrates some fine Seto, “Moon Flask”, lamp, decorated in Seto’s beautiful sapphire blue.
The flask sensitively painted with a Japanese naturalistic subject of a gnarled pine growing from steep mountainside, or, natural Bonsai. The painted subject in the distinctive, Seto Imari, sapphire blue enamel. The flask sides, base, and neck painted with a ground of a tightly curled meander of tendril and flower heads. The neck of the flask with applied, white, dragon grips. The oval lamp on a custom made, oval, gilt wood stand. The lamp cap of gold plated bronze.
It was within a decade that Japanese design concepts arrived in the West.
Two outstanding names serve to illustrate this influence on Western art, James Whistler, the great American / British painter of the mid to late 19th century. He was one of the first westerners to be influenced by the artistic tradition of Japan and he developed a rather aesthetic response to living, 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 has 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, so impressed was he, that he purchased all available. The purchase changed his life — and the history of Western art. Monet was never shy about his fascination with Japan and its art and 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).
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 Weston 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. Japanese porcelain and pottery, until the opening of Japan to the West, 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 its’ bright pallet of colors, primarily based on iron red and under glaze cobalt blue, this always forms the basic Imari pallet, which can then have a range of additional colors added.
This popular Japanese porcelain is called “Imari” due to the fact that it was exported by its various makers through the port of “Imari”.
These bright patterns were primarily developed for a Western market and 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 and is seen often in many lamps, lampshades and other decor fixtures.