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Kutani Porcelain And Pottery

( Originally Published 1911 )

Kutani, in the province of Kaga, produced pottery of dark clay with a light chocolate glaze about the middle of the seventeenth century. Later, one of the potters, who was sent to Hizen for the purpose, brought back information which led to great improvement. At the end of that century, and early in the next, two wares were produced. One is marked by a deep green glaze, which formed an effective and striking decoration, but other glazes were also used on these other wares, notably deep purple, yellow, and a soft blue. The other class was an imitation of Hizen ware, with the difference that blue under the glaze was not associated with enamel colours over the glaze. In addition to the colours mentioned a beautiful red was introduced and gold was added.

The artistic designs were purely Japanese bits of nature-painting, tiny landscapes, birds on plum branches, and other simple but striking subjects of this kind. The contrast to the Imari ware, with its bold masses of blossoms and colours, is as great as it is with modern Kutani. The latter often has peacocks, groups of brilliant peonies and chrysanthemums, brightly dressed women and wonderful old men, cocks upon barrels, and other well-known subjects. The only figures on old Kutani are children playing.

The paste is of a bad colour, a kind of dirty white. It passes from stoneware to porcelain, according to the nature of the clay, much of which was imported, and which was sometimes mixed with the clay found at Kutani. The other makers of porcelain frequently sent their pieces in a white state to be decorated here, and this was done especially from Arita. From this it will be seen that the Kutani mark appears on porcelain varying in composition. Thus there are stoneware and excellent porcelain. Some of it will bear comparison with the best Hizen egg-shell. What tests should be applied to find out whether the specimen submitted is old Kutani or not ? One has been given—it is this : blue under the glaze is not employed in conjunction with enamel decoration. Then there is the tone of the blue. Reference has been made to the rich blue of Imari, the exquisite soft and clear blue of Hirado, but the Kutani blue is, like the paste often is, inferior in quality. The glaze, however, has a wax-like surface which is distinctive. In the coloured specimens the severe nature of the decoration and the beauty and lustre of the enamels are characteristic features.

But Kutani copied Chinese originals in the best style, so that if such specimens were bought in China they would pass for good examples of the best period. But in Japan, as in China, porcelain is made of two earths, one fusible, the other infusible, and owing to the difference in the matter of firing, most Japanese porcelain has spur-marks or small projections on the bottom, produced by the supports used in the process of firing. Otherwise, the same means are employed in making and decorating porcelain in both countries.

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