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Kutani ware (Jp.)

Greyish, coarse-grain porcelain known for bold patterns and coloration, primarily in green and yellow augmented by blue and purple; produced in Arita near kilns making Kakiemon and Nabeshima wares in mid-17th century (so-called Ko-kutani, or Old-Kutani) and later revived in the village of Kutani in Kaga Province (modern Ishikawa Prefecture), northeast of Kyoto.

Regarding Ko-Kutani, its short history of just c 30 years 1650-1690 (some have 1631-1673) is not well documented and is still debated. Its birth is attributed to Goto Saijiro. It was made in a varity of shapes by workers assembled from such scattered localities, as Korea, China, Kyoto, Hizen and so on, and probably each was able to add something of his own traditional and local techniques to his work.

Style: Body contains much impurities, glaze is thick, drippy, pooling, and is white tinged with grey, and not shiny (dull). The older, the more primitive it looks. Many pieces are deformed, almost rustic in appearance, no two alike.

Color: Sometsuke blue is very dark, tinged with black or is indistinguishable from black, like a dark navy blue today. Red color is very dark, almost black too. Green is heavy handed, thick, deeper as it gets thicker. This can be said for all colors in this period.

Decorations: are often done with a large brush, not the finer ones we see later, and they seem spontaneous, not contrived or planned. Design borders are not so distinct, but are often black, filled in with these deep pooled colored glazes. Most red ones are imitations of the Chinese aka-e style, and copies of Chinese motifs are more common than copies of patterns of Arita wares.

Six patterns characterize Ko Kutani, and they are, not in any order, Chinese, Kano School, Yamato-e School/Style (Sotatsu), Imari, Persia, and Ai Kutani. Regarding Chinese style, early works are said to be of Nanking style. We see Ao Kutani in the Persian style pieces. Ai-Kutani refers to Indigo blue Kutani pieces from this period, but this transition of color to blue and white is hotly debated by experts.

Ko-Kutani was original, not following a line of tradition, and like the sakura (cherry blossom), bloomed brilliantly for a relatively short period, and then was gone. Poof! Body, color and design are the three factors in evaluating if a piece is Ko Kutani, but we are unlikely ever to hold one unless we have been good in a previous life.

Courtesy of: John Wocher, 2004

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