Things Japanese/Porcelain and Pottery
Porcelain and Pottery. At the end of the sixteenth century after Christ, the Korean polity and civilisation were ruthlessly overthrown by Japanese invaders. The Korean art of porcelain-making then crossed the water. All Japan's chief potteries date from that time, her teachers being Korean captives. What had gone before ,yas but preparatory,—such things, we mean, as the coarse clay vessels attributed to the eighth century saint, Gyōgi Bosatsu, the black and chocolate-coloured tea-jars of Seto, which date from the thirteenth century, and Shonzui's imitations of Chinese blue porcelain, which date from the first half of the sixteenth century. These early efforts may greatly interest the antiquary; and the association of some of them with the celebrated "tea ceremonies" (cha-no-yu) gives them a succès d'estime in the eyes of native collectors. But they are not art properly so called. Japanese ceramic art dates, roughly speaking, from the year 1600. It reached its zenith, also roughly speaking, between the years 1750 and 1830. The "Old Satsuma" crackled ware, of which European collections contain (query: do they?) such numerous specimens, possesses therefore no fabulous antiquity; the only thing often fabulous about it is its genuineness. The real golden age of Satsuma faience was the half-century from 1800 to 1850.
The other principal centres of the Japanese ceramic art are the province of Hizen, noted for the enamelled porcelain made at Arita—the "Old Japan of European collectors besides other varieties; Kaga, which, after a long and checkered history, is now known chiefly for the Kutani porcelain richly decorated in red and gold; and Kyōto, whose Raku faience has long been associated with the tea ceremonies. Kyōto is also the home of the Awata faience originated by the celebrated artist Ninsei about A.D. 1650, and of other varieties known by the names of Kiyomizu, Gojō-zaka, Iwakura-yaki, etc. The potteries of Kyōto are those within most easy reach of the traveller, and a visit to them should on no account be omitted. Then there is Owari, which produces many varieties of porcelain and certain descriptions of faience and stoneware. Though here named last, the Owari potteries would seem to be the most ancient of all; and the village of Seto in this province has given its name to pottery and porcelain in general, such objects being familiarly spoken of by the Japanese as seto-mono, that is, "Seto things," much as we use the word "china."
Japan boasts many other famous ceramic wares. Such are the various kinds of Bizen ware, of which the most original are humorous figures of gods, birds, lions, and other creatures; the thin, mostly unglazed Banko ware, whose manufacturers at the present day display great ingenuity in giving quaint fanciful shapes to tea-pots and other small articles; the Awaji faience, consisting chiefly of small monochromatic pieces with a bright yellow or green glaze; the Sōma pottery, to be recognised by the picture of a running horse; the egg-shell cups of Mino; and the Takatori, Izumo, and Yatsushiro wares, the last of which—especially in its more ancient specimens—is very highly prized.
The qualities of sobriety and "distinction," which are so noticeable in the other branches of Japanese art, have not failed to impress themselves on the ceramics of this esthetic land. Some of the early Arita porcelain was, it is true, manufactured to the order of Dutch traders at Nagasaki, and bears the marks of this extraneous influence in the gaudy overcrowding of its decoration. For this fault Wagenaar and other chiefs of the Dutch factory are responsible, not the Japanese whom they employed. A British matron possessed of the necessary funds may dictate as she pleases to a Paris modiste; but the result is not necessarily a perfect index of Parisian taste. The typical Japanese ceramists were no hired workmen, no mere sordid manufacturers, but artists, and not only artists, but clansmen faithful to their feudal chief. By him they were fed; for him and for the love of their art they worked. Pieces were made for special occasions,—for presents, say, from their lord to the Shōgun at Yedo, or for the trousseau of their lord's daughter. Time was no object. There was no public of mediocre taste to cater for. Nothing was made, as the vulgar phrase is, for the million. The art was perfectly and essentially aristocratic. Hence the distinction of, for instance, the early Satsuma ware, the delicacy of its drawing, the subdued harmony of its colouring. It is a mere piece of amiable optimism to suppose it possible that such a tradition can be kept up in the days which have produced that frightful, but aptly descriptive, term, "art manufacture." The same thing is true, generally speaking, of Japanese art in all its branches. The painter, the lacquerer, the worker in metal,—all had in view the personal requirements of a small and highly cultivated class of nobles. Money-making was never their aim, nor were their minds distracted by the knowledge of the existence of numerous styles besides their own.
It need scarcely be added that public "collections," whether of porcelain or of other art-objects, were entirely foreign to the spirit and usage of Old Japan. They date back only a few decades, and owe their origin to European influence. The Ueno Museum at Tōkyō and the Museum at Nara are perhaps the best in the country. But we believe that the finest collections of Japanese porcelain and pottery are to be seen abroad, that brought together by Professor E. S. Morse and now belonging to the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston, Massachusetts, being the most complete and therefore the most instructive in the world. (See also Article on Archæology.)
Books recommended. Brinkley's Japan and China, Vol. VIII, is exhaustive. See also Catalogue of the Morse Collection of Japanese Pottery, and for prehistoric pottery, The Dolmens and Burial Mounds in Japan, by Wm. Gowland, published by the Society of Antiquaries (London).—Japan and its Art, by M. B. Huish, is a smaller popular treatise.