Kutani: Japanese porcelain with a fragmented history
Japanese porcelain is some of the most beautifully designed ceramic ware in the world. Whilst scouring through Vinterior’s many treasures, one can find a form of Japanese ceramic called Kutani that sparks awe with its intricate detailed scenes and vibrant colours.
Some sources have it that Kutani was first mentioned in 1655. Lord Maeda Toshiharu commissioned Goto Saijiro to be sent to the Arita Village in the Hizen Province in Saga Prefecture. Goto was tasked with learning the new porcelain glazing technique being imported there from China.
The Saga Prefecture is famous for its beautiful ceramic ware and porcelain. Many iconic and beautiful styles of porcelain were born there, such as Imari and Arita. These early ceramics would be a great influence on a new style of pottery to be known as Kutani. It is now known as Ko-Kutani or ‘Old Kutani’ to distinguish it from the pieces created after this period.
The name comes from the Kutani village in the former Kaga Province, where the first porcelain kilns were located .
The first Kutani wares bore close resemblance to Imari and Arita wares. However, the specific overglaze technique developed by Goto Saijiro distinguishes Ko-Kutani from its Arita porcelain predecessors. Colours predominantly used were blue, green, yellow, purple, and red in the overglazing process.
These pieces were striking in their detail. Vivid colours only enhanced the already painstakingly detailed images and scenes depicted on the porcelain.
After Goto Saijiru’s death in 1730, the art of Kutani wares almost died with him. He had no family to pass down his learned techniques. Also, the infrequent distribution of these wares meant that the production of Kutani was not financially lucrative at the time.
Kutani porcelain fell out of popularity due to the mass closure of Kutani kilns. The reason for the closures are unsure. Many sources cite different reasons, ranging from financial difficulties to lack of materials needed for the glazing process. Needless to say, this shortened period of production made Ko-Kutani pieces all the more rare and invaluable.
Kutani was revived almost 100 years after Ko-Kutani in the early 1800s, thanks to a Kyoto painter named Aoki Mokubei. He was designated by Maeda Narinaga to restore the Kutani porcelain industry. During this era, known as saiko kutani, a new decorative technique called kinrande was introduced. This technique involved red and gold decoration with the overglaze enamel.
The added luxury of gold detailing and abundance of red in kinrande amplified the sense of luxury and importance of the ceramics.
Kutani’s final period commenced in the Meiji era in the 1860s. It was also around this time that we start to see Kutani introduced to Europe. A greater number of kilns reopened and there was an increased production of Japanese ceramics.
Today, we still have Kutani being made but at a domestic mass productive scale. However, the painstaking fine art of early Kutani wares are still a marvel of intricate design and pictorial storytelling.
Kutani is such a beautiful form of ceramic art, has had history a fragile and fragmented history. Fortunately, its beauty has prompted it to be continuously rediscovered, and we’ll continue to appreciate its delicate beauty for years to come.