Japanese Porcelain on the European Continent

coffee pot.jpg

Coffee Pot

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Teapot with Landscape

There is a shift during the second half of the seventeenth century wherein a larger percentage of porcelain wares were being produced exclusively for export to Europe, as opposed to consumption either by Japanese elite or the ordinary man. Despite this “standards and level of quality were kept as high as they” possibly could be,[1] which furthered this idea that Japanese porcelain was a commodity prized for its caliber of material and workmanship. Trade with the Dutch East India Company introduced the Japanese craft to the European continent, beginning a fashion that prized porcelain as a status of luxury, refinement, and taste that would stretch into as late as the tail end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Despite best efforts to emulate the strength of the medium, as well as the delicacy of forms and the subtle aesthetic of the decoration, ultimately European artisans could not replicate East Asian porcelain with its infamous translucent surface, as the continent did not have a supply of kaolin clay.[2] Without this key element for the production process, enamored Europeans had to rely on importation of porcelain from the East. Because of a high demand for goods, Japanese kilns started to craft objects specifically for exportation, such as the Coffee Pot.

An object such as this was modelled after popular European shapes, such as ewers or other “popular vessel types”,[3] as opposed to a characteristic style of Japanese porcelain for domestic consumption. This active decision to mold the shape of the porcelain to a familiar style in Europe proves that kilns were pragmatically producing works which would feel accessible to Europeans as they fit into Western conventional aesthetics. The use of blue and white shows a narrowed focus and taste within European circles for something that felt innately Oriental. This was in line with conventions of porcelain from China, with whom the Dutch had previously traded. When China could keep up with demand thanks to political and economic strife within the country, the Dutch turned to Japan as a supply source[4] In other words, because Japan had been heavily influenced by Chinese designs and color palette, Japanese porcelain acted as an easy and acceptable substitute for china.

            Before porcelain kilns within Europe began producing their own works from beginning to end, some artisans were decorating imported objects from Japan, strengthening the Western fascination with the Far East in the aesthetic and techniques of their art. This process of “application of motifs onto the body of the pot” by a Western is seen with the Teapot with Landscape, a small, personal teapot in a European style with a bulbous center, moderately large handle, and delicate lid.[5] The physical material is Japanese porcelain from the early 18th century, but the design was created by a Dutch artist copying the work of Olfert Dapper. The design is ambiguous Oriental, in the sense that the scene evokes an idea of the East with a small pagoda near a quiet river, but does not show concrete and recognizable iconography or locations.

In the first third of the eighteenth century, Western Europe began a laborious process to emulate the heavily marked up in price porcelain they were consuming. As Oliver Impey notes in his article about Japanese export art, “It is ironical, perhaps, that the first porcelains made in Europe imitate those of Japan, where porcelain had only been made for just over 100 years, and not those of China where it had been made for over 900. This was partly because of changing tastes in Europe and partly because of its decoration.” Japanese formal elements of design, specifically the cobalt blue and bone white color palette, became the fashion in courtly circles in Europe, especially in France.[6] It is almost like the elite Europeans could not tell the difference between china and Japanese porcelain, or simply did not care about the difference; at the end of the day, porcelain, whether from China or Japan was a high quality commodity beautifully decorated that acted as a status symbol. What truly mattered to them was whether it came from an East Asian nation, it did not matter which one in particular.


[1] Martin, Lerner. Blue and White: Early Japanese Export Ware. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978).

[2]Oliver, Impey. “Japanese Export Art of the Edo Period and Its Influence on European Art.” Modern Asian Studies 18, no. 4 (1984): 685-97.

[3] Lerner, Blue and White.

[4] Nagatake. Classic Japanese Porcelain, 54

[5] Wichmann. Japonisme, 343.

[6] Wichmann. Japonisme, 340.

Japanese Porcelain on the European Continent