Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) is celebrated as Japan's most inventive creator of ceramic decoration and foremost workshop master. His reputation is a product both of his own time and of the modern age.The esteem in which he was held in Japan was ignited in the West as critics, art dealers, and collectors vied for his colorfully painted and inscribed work at the turn of the twentieth century. The fact that it was signed by the maker himself was one of its principal draws. In the 1960s, over 100 hitherto unknown pieces were authenticated by leading experts and then exposed as forgeries. The scandal raised questions about the nature of the "authentic," given that even the ceramics produced during Ogata Kenzan's lifetime rarely issued directly from his own hand. Wares continued to be produced under his name, in all probity, long after his death.
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919) was the world's principal collector of Kenzan wares, and his acquisitions ranged from original pieces of Kenzan's workshop to late- nineteenth-century forgeries. The story of Freer's collection uncovers the secret history of the complex relationships between makers and connoisseurs, between individual creativity and artisanal work, relationships that often operate across centuries.
After two centuries of innovation and reproduction Ogata Kenzan now amounts to a designer brand of ceramics rather than referring to a single artist.