Exhibition | Kakiemon and 400 Years of Porcelain

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 1, 2016

Press release for the exhibition now on view at The British Museum:

Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 Years of Porcelain
The British Museum, London, 23 June — 21 August 2016

Japanese Porcelain
Founded by Korean potters . . .
Inspired by Chinese styles . . .
Encouraged by Dutch traders . . .
The Kakiemon style has absorbed foreign influence while incorporating distinctive Japanese elements.

Boy on a Go Board, Kakiemon kiln, Arita, Japan, ca. 1670–80, nigoshide porcelain (London: The British Museum)

Boy on a Go Board, Kakiemon kiln, Arita, Japan, ca. 1670–80, nigoshide porcelain (London: The British Museum)

This Asahi Shimbun Display Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 Years of Porcelain celebrates fifteen generations of porcelain production in Arita by showcasing work by one of the most famous potting dynasties. 2016 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of porcelain in the town of Arita in Saga Prefecture, and the show will feature, among other examples, a new work decorated with acorn branches by Sakaida Kakiemon XV (b. 1968) representing his coming of age as an artist that he created specifically for the British Museum. Featured in the display is an original film made by the British Museum at the Kakiemon kiln, which allows viewers to see and feel through the actions of the potters how Kakiemon porcelain is actually created.

The Kakiemon (pronounced ‘ka-ki-e-mon’) kiln is still modeled on the traditional Japanese early modern workshop system. Succession is based on the principle of iemoto or ‘head of the household’, the oldest son inheriting and sustaining the brand and workshop. The current head of the kiln is Kakiemon XV. He recently received the title following the death of his greatly admired father Kakiemon XIV in 2013.

Historically, the Kakiemon workshop produced some of the most exquisite porcelain for export to Europe and the Middle East, notably in the later 1600s. In 1647 Sakaida Kizaemon was credited with introducing the overglaze enameling technique to the Arita porcelain kilns, making advanced porcelain production possible and starting the potting dynasty. He was thought to have learnt the secrets to overglaze enameling on porcelain from a Chinese specialist in adjacent Nagasaki. This success earned him the name Sakaida Kakiemon I—which derived from kaki or ‘persimmon’ after the orangey-red colour of the most important overglaze enamel. Japan was a late starter to porcelain production compared to China and Korea, but it quickly made up for lost time. Japan benefitted from domestic turbulence in China and was able to start exporting to Europe and elsewhere through the Dutch East India Company.

The classic Kakiemon style, lasting from 1670 to 1700, is defined by its refined yet sparse decoration executed with bright overglaze enamels in a palette of orange-red, green, blue and yellow. Some of the most exquisite porcelain is on view in this display such as Boy on a Go Board, ca. 1670–80. This figurine was specifically created with a distinctive creamy-white porcelain body called nigoshide, the formula for which was developed by the Kakiemon kiln. The contrast in colours and tones emphasises the brightly coloured enamels. A 3D model of this figurine can be viewed online.

Kakiemon grew in international popularity in the late 17th century, and became particularly valued in England during the reign of Queen Mary II (1686–1694), who was passionate about the Kakiemon style. Classic Kakiemon style in Japan ceased production in the 18th century; but its popularity continued, and the style was reproduced in China and in Europe, examples of which can be seen in this display. There was a revival in the mid-20th century of traditional Kakiemon style due to the ingenuity of Kakiemon XII and Kakiemon XIII. They rediscovered the forgotten techniques and created a renaissance for the nigoshide creamy white porcelain used earlier with Boy Sitting on a Go Board. Kakiemon XIII was awarded the high honour from the Japanese government as a ‘Living National Treasure’ for his revitalisation of classic Kakiemon style. His son, Kakiemon XIV continued the legacy of his father while also developing the Kakiemon brand through inspired naturalistic designs. Kakiemon XV is now poised to take the revitalised Kakiemon legacy forward.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays are a series of regularly changing displays which look at objects in new or different ways. Sometimes the display highlights a well-known item; sometimes it surprises the audience with extraordinary items from times and cultures that may not be very familiar. This is also an opportunity for the Museum to learn how it can improve its larger exhibitions and permanent gallery displays. These displays have been made possible by the generous sponsorship of The Asahi Shimbun Company, who are long-standing supporters of the British Museum. With a circulation of about 7 million for the morning edition alone, The Asahi Shimbun is the most prestigious newspaper in Japan. The company also publishes magazines and books, and provides a substantial information service on the internet. The Asahi Shimbun Company has a century-long tradition of staging exhibitions in Japan of art, culture, and history from around the world.





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