In preparation for an earlier exercise on this course I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. While there I saw examples of Kakiemon porcelain. So I was very interested to see that the British Museum had a small exhibition of Kakiemon – how it is produced and decorated, together with examples of Kakiemon porcelain and of other styles that it has influenced.
I learned from the exhibition that Japanese porcelain was first produced in the town of Arita. One of the main kilns in the town was run by the Kakiemon family, hence the name of the porcelain. The porcelain comes from a naturally occurring mix of kaolin, feldspar and silica (called porcelain stone). When this is subjected to very high temperatures it becomes white, semi-translucent and extremely strong.
The potters also make their own tools and the preparation and maintenance of tools and workspaces are important rituals in their working lives. Designs are painted onto the porcelain body with brushes. In 1647 Kizaemon was the first Japanese potter to successfully apply enamel colours to a glazed porcelain surface.
There were several examples of Kakiemon ware in this exhibition. In “Dish with tiger, plum and bamboo” 1670 to 1700 the gallery notes state that “the refined yet sparse decoration of this dish is typical of Kakiemon porcelain made during the late 1600s. The tension between the undecorated and the decorated areas give the designer distinctive graphic power”.
The exhibition also demonstrated how Kakiemon influenced porcelain produced elsewhere e.g. China
And Chelsea where “English ceramic factories also copied the Kakiemon style. Chelsea, the first major porcelain factory in England, made numerous Japanese-style ware”.
The final exhibit was of contemporary Kakiemon ware a “Large dish with wagtail and bamboo” from 1971. The gallery notes explain “the design of a wagtail singing as it rests on a branch of bamboo reveals a refreshing naturalism that was new to the Kakiemon repertoire”.
It was really interesting for me to see in much more detail how something I had studied as a work of art was produced and how it influenced porcelain ware in other countries of the world. There was also a video showing the creation of Kakiemon porcelain where it appeared as though the production methods and values have changed little since 1670!