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The Imari pattern

This week we are having a closer look at the highly popular Imari pattern.

The Imari pattern has a rich history steeped in Japanese culture and global trade.
Originating in the town of Arita on the island of Kyushu in the 17th century, Imari porcelain quickly gained popularity both domestically and internationally. Named after the port city of Imari, from where these exquisite wares were exported, the pattern typically features vibrant colours of underglaze cobalt blue, iron red, green, and gilt accents, often depicting asian motifs such as flower gardens, and landscapes. Initially, Imari porcelain was highly sought after by European aristocracy, sparking a craze known as “Imari-mania” in the West during the 17th and early 18th century. While China was a well-established trade route by this time, Japan was a little harder to access, and less Japanese Imari porcelain made its way to Europe. This scarcity led to it being priced at a premium, more expensive than Chinese equivalents, which were neither the same porcelain nor style.

When Japan closed it’s trading ports down, and almost all trade with foreigners was forbidden by Imperial edict in the early 18th century, the Europeans were devastated: they were Imari Addicts, and their source of Imari was suddenly taken away.

Enter the ever-opportunistic Chinese traders… mainland China quickly became Imari-experts, and mass production of Imai-style porcelain began in the first decades of the 18th century. By the mid-18th century, huge amounts of Imari ware was making its way by ship to England and the Continent. At the same time, the Europeans had also figured out the secret of making porcelain -and naturally, the first thing they replicated were the prestigeous and expensive Imari wares.
Japanese Imari is a beautiful product to collect, and is generally either the very early products, c. 1680-1720, with a large gap when production for export almost ceased, and then the re-opening of Japan in the mid-19th century. This sudden emergence of Japan in International Trade led to vast quantities of Imari porcelain once again finding its way to the West – and as the volume increased into the early 20th century, the price dropped. It’s still the same – early = expensive, later = less expensive.
Chinese products often appeal to a different collector, and are keenly sought after as well.

England rapidly became the largest producer of Imari wares in the early 19th century, where the richness of the tea wares perfectly matched the elegance of the Regency interiors. The Derby factory found a great demand for their particular take in Imari, for some reason later known as ‘witches pattern’. This classic English Imari continued to be made right through the 20th century, one of the true survivors in ceramic design.

Despite fluctuations in demand over the centuries, the allure of Imari porcelain endures, representing not only the exotic origin in Japanese ceramic artistry but also a testament to the enduring legacy of cross-cultural exchange and trade.

A pair of handsome baluster-vases & covers, painted with plump rabbits & with foo dog finials – late 17th century – at Moorabool Antiques, Geelong.
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