Imari Ware is the Japanese porcelain produced in the locality of Arita in southern
Japan and exported around the world through the nearby port of Imari. Arita Ware,
as Imari Ware should really be know, was first produce in the early 1600s. Exports
to Europe peaked at the end of the 17th century and by the 1760s Chinese porcelain
had largely displaced the Japanese wares on the export market. Its manufacture, however,
is still an important local industry to the present day.
The town of Arita in the prefecture of Saga on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu
is the birthplace of Japanese ceramics. Tradition has it that porcelain manufacture
began in the early 17th Century with the discovery of china clay (kaolinite) deposits
and the forced immigration of potters from Korea. The first Arita porcelains were
plain white wares or white ware with underglaze blue decoration and these were exported
to Europe through the Dutch East India Company. From the about 1640 more highly decorated
Imari Ware was produced and when the Chinese trade was disrupted by civil war the
Dutch East India Company turned to the Arita kilns to supply their European markets.
From about 1660 the Arita wares flooded into European markets and the trade continued
until Chinese manufacture of Imari-styled ware recommenced, displacing the Japanese
originals in the mid-18th century.
Whilst ‘Imari’ is a generic term for the wares of the Arita region, there were distinct
decorative styles linked to the location, kiln or clan-family that produced the ware.
The best known styles are Ko-imari, and Iro-Nabeshima where the colour palette was
restricted to red and blue, and the more colourful Kakiemon where the basic blue
and red imari colours were supplemented by green, yellow and other colours. Gilding,
catering to European tastes added richness to the ware. Motifs common in classical
imari ware (and copied by European potters) include pine, prunus and bamboo, the
chrysanthymum, and the crane.
European Imari Ware
European imitations of the oriental Imari Ware were quickly produced by the major
European factories of Meissen and Vincennes and in the early 1800s the Worcester
factory produced the first British ware copying the palette and design of the Japanese
and Chinese ware. Other British manufacturers followed and in modern times the term
‘Imari’, has been applied to any porcelain decorated with the striking deep blue,
red, green and gold colour palette and figurative motifs of the original Arita Wares.
Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd is the best known European manufacturer of Imari-styled
wares and a 2005 catalogue features ‘Japan (Old Imari) solid gold band giftware’.
British manufacturers of Imari Ware were Crown Derby, Ashworth Bros (Mason’s Ironstone
China), Spode, Copeland & Garrett, Samuel Radford, and many others.