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Japanese Kakiemon Porcelain

The word Kakiemon is derived from the name of the Japanese potter Sakaida Kizaemon (1615 - 1653 AD) who invented this style of porcelain. Prior to the work of Kizaemon, the Japanese porcelain industry was considered to be in its infancy having only produced both blue and white wares and celadon porcelain wares.

History of Kakiemon

Initially, Kizaemon focused his time on perfecting the technique of painting wares with overglaze red enamels based upon the already highly developed Chinese examples. A friend of Kizaemon visited Nagasaki to purchase the secrets of the overglaze enamelling process from a Chinese potter. Upon his friends return they both worked together to refine the formula. The pair finally succeeded and after a presentation of their work to a local feudal lord, the lord was so impressed that he immediately ordered for Kizaemon to alter his name to Kakiemon, ‘Kaki’ being the name of the new brilliant red overglaze enamel colour they had produced.

During the period of Kakiemon’s production, he focused on three key designs. The first was based on the Chinese designs of the Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty, the second which Kakiemon was most synonymous with being his simple naturalistic Japanese designs and the third of a European style mainly influenced by Dutch ceramic examples.

Visual aspects of Kakiemon

Kakiemon porcelain wares are generally highly refined with depictions of brilliantly coloured naturalist subjects elegantly painted against very pure white grounds. In comparison to the often profusely decorated Japanese Imari wares painted in dark blues and reds with gilt highlights, Kakiemon designs are considerably restrained with much simpler and more delicate designs. Kakiemon wares are always predominantly white with approximately two thirds of the surface remaining undecorated. 

European inspiration

Towards the end of the 17th century, the Japanese began to export Kakiemon wares to Europe which were received to great acclaim. This soon inspired many European factories to produce visually similar examples continuing throughout the 18th century. These factories included Delft in Holland, Meissen in Germany and Worcester in England with other factories later continuing this trend such as Bow, Chelsea and Caughly. One particular Japanese Kakiemon design which was popularly produced in the 18th century by Meissen is the ‘Gelbe Löwe’ pattern typically decorated with a tiger encompassing a bamboo shoot facing a tree stump with flowering prunus. This pattern was initially copied from an original Japanese Kakiemon porcelain example as part of a large order placed by the Paris merchant, Rudolph Lemaire.

If you have any Kakiemon items that you would like to sell or have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, Asian art specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.