A new display of 19th century Japanese porcelain showcases a major donation of East Asian ceramics to National Museums Scotland
The display, in the Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland, features around 20 pieces, focussing on the work of four potters who achieved the exalted rank of Imperial Household Artist.
The overall donation is of some 416 Japanese and Chinese ceramics collected over half a century by David and Anne Hyatt King. The donation to National Museums Scotland was made through the Art Fund.
Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator - East & Central Asia at National Museums Scotland, said: This display shows the work of four master craftsmen who were exceptionally highly regarded in Japanese ceramics in the 19th century, and their work remains strikingly elegant and beautiful. The display samples some of the works from a remarkable collection accrued by David and Anne Hyatt King, and we are extremely pleased and grateful that they have chosen to donate the collection to National Museums Scotland with the assistance and recognition of the Art Fund.
David King said: "The gift to National Museums Scotland comes from the Art Fund to whom we have donated the fruits of our collecting. We have collected for over 50 years and this donation assures the preservation and recognition of the collection while reflecting the excellence of the National Museums Scotlands facilities and its curatorial excellence. The forthcoming exhibition of Japanese porcelains will encourage people to enjoy their many fine qualities, while learning more about Japan's late 19th Century rise to pre-eminence in this area. "
The late 19th century was a time of great upheaval and innovation for artists in Japan, with a reordering of the social structure taking place alongside new markets and technologies which inspired innovation in the Japanese ceramic industry.
In 1890 the Japanese government instigated the Imperial Household Artists system to recognise and support mature artists who had achieved a level of success and renown within their respective crafts. These figures were intended to set the bar for the quality expected of other artists, and also to supply pieces to the imperial court.
The first ceramic artist to be appointed, in 1893, was Seifū Yohei III (18511914). He was joined three years later by Miyagawa Kōzan (18421916). In 1917, after the death of these two ceramic greats, both Itō Tōzan I (18461920) and Suwa Sozan I (18511922) were appointed.
Though based in different areas of Japan, all four men worked primarily in porcelain and were striving to adapt their art to the new ceramic technologies and aesthetic demands of the era. Both the continuing stature of Chinese arts in Japan and intense competition for a share of the export market led them to emulate works from the continent, particularly the refined monochrome wares of the Qing dynasty. They strove to create works of refined subtlety through repeated experimentation with new firing techniques and glazes.
Their most prestigious creations were grand and impressive presentation pieces for the court, but they were also capable of small-scale works for private enjoyment.