Subject:Re: Tea cup, saucer and plate
Posted By: Eizaemon Sun, Dec 27, 2020
Greetings Elena (and all),
This post is more than you asked for, would really need, or ever likely want to know - but nonetheless I separated it into two parts.
The first gives you an answer via my personal (speculative) opinion at the start of it; and a little more context.
The second gives (anybody who wants a lengthy read) more context (which I cannot fault you for skipping, yet still wanted to provide in case of possible use) as to why I find it so difficult to define things even if prevalent and more on the common side like these questioned pieces of Japanese ceramics..
I was actually emailing a friend last week a long chain of statements on discussing why it's hard to define some things with art; and especially, our mutual interest of Japanese ceramic art - so "sunk cost fallacy" & felt others should suffer too.
-Part 1: The Answer-
So, let's begin:
In my opinion your pieces are certainly pre-war (first half 20th), and I'll try to offer some insight without confusing everybody (and myself), as Japanese ceramics can be difficult to characterize even for experts often.
I believe Martin is referring to his answering you via satsuma as definition of over-enameled earthenware (so interpretation of commonly seen style & ceramic material).
Therefore, yours would not be satsuma of any kind in this capacity; and I agree to most extents.
(It definitely has a bit of an overlap in both Kutani, and its collection discussions seen as well - also due to both ceramic material and origin, but this will be rambled about after).
I personally feel these are equally (maybe a touch more) "Satsuma-style" in influence more than "Kutani-style" (just by a tiny amount, if at all..[sorry Martin, you're probably right honestly; you can shame me later without any blame]).
Yet, this still means very little in all actuality.
As Martin said, these are technically not "satsuma" itself - at least, what we would regard as such usually I think; and possibly not really “Kutani” much more either..
So, why am I being difficult - and more importantly: then what are they?
It's because these belong to a tricky confusing-causing loose "classification" type of export ceramics made of porcelaneous stoneware; and were usually produced/finished & exported from a place like Kobe or Yokohama (possibly even Tokyo).
A good example of these types would be many pieces produced by Imura - or the Hyochien Decorating Workshop in Tokyo; even simply the "Yokohama-yaki" export subgrouping.
(This is also I think equally difficult to define, but that's enough of that for now; I have an unsolicited soapbox lecture to provide).
Not all pieces were marked/stamped for export; and this is a commonly touted fallacy now essentially accepted as fact - or at best - a misunderstanding.
In many cases the laws and codes were misinterpreted or interpreted on an individual basis by exporters, producers, and merchants.
Also pair this along with the fact that many came over to export-heavy destinations like San Francisco in crates or large storage boxes; and these instead were or could equally be marked (to/for some) quite abidingly) instead.
-Part 2: The Never Ending Question-
More context for this period of production/development:
Your pieces do have some overlapping elements of many export satsuma-type pieces produced in the first few decades of the 20th century: like heavy reliance on moriage, gilt, and over-enameled cutaway depictions within cartouches.
Ironically, we can say this about Kutani pieces made during the same time period too, or classic Nippon/Noritake pieces, and others too.
Many of these pieces cycled through similar production factories for the blanks, decorating shoppes, or merchants using a rotating basis of such as their firms expanded/relocated.
This is along with (generally) sharing the aspect of pieces like this being made quickly for mass-production and mass-export.
Not to say they didn't have visible differences, too; but mass-export and cheaply/quickly made to keep up with the demand (especially as trends rapidly changed in western tastes post-1900, or to compensate for export slumps occurred in many areas during the later 19th century) would be a good general summary.
There's a lot of overlap; just as (like Martin said) there were too many firms/shoppes/factories to keep up with (and even more lost to history due to the lack of records keeping often had in this time period).
So what's the deal with the mixed signals?
Simply put: we often tied the geographic area to equate the sole definition of ware classifications, while also misunderstanding the nuances of styles themselves and their histories - often from the beginning.
Besides, what makes something a definitive grouping, or a non-example of one?
I feel there's varying (yet still passable) validity as to many sides of the argument - but we also should remember how loosely classified many of these groupings currently remain (or how debated they still are).
For instance, there were many merchants for Kutani in Meiji-early Shōwa that are classified as such - yet they had a heavy amount of firms/shoppes in places like Yokohama or Kobe compared to classic Kaga Domain/Daishoji (in today currently Ishikawa Prefecture).
Makers like Wantano or Oda, are often referred to having made "Yokohama-type Kutani" or such by many.
Likewise we also had many greats like Taizan Yohei and Kinkozan in the Kyoto area who would, undoubtedly, be considered major producers/exporters/artists of Satsuma.
Yet, some of the more striking pieces by Kinkozan I've seen have also been porcelain instead of earthenware - but still made at his Satsuma production workshoppe.
(They both also produced abundant amounts of Awata-yaki, which "technically" is not exactly even Kyoto Satsuma - and used to be sold as "old" old Satsuma to those bent on obtaining such).
Many of the pieces we call "Satsuma" today, ironically were made in Kyoto facilities due to the desire of "old Satsuma" by the ever-changing nitpicking of westerners.
Later on this was often by adding heavier amounts of gosu enamels in the last decades of the 19th century (think of what used to be called "Imperial Satsuma"), as many westerners had already started to reject the emerging forms of gild laden export satsuma items using polychrome to depict villages and geishas, samurai, or "traditional Japan" that many foreigners (again, ironically) demanded when export first started ramping up production in the Meiji Era.
Does this mean export Satsuma (or the Kyo-ware variants then [and even now] sold as Satsuma) produced in Kyoto isn't "Satsuma" at all because it wasn't produced in the Satsuma province in Kagoshima?
If that's the case: much of it produced and perfected by those who we would now call some of the largest innovators and influencers of it, wouldn't be representative of it at all.
Well, that's an opinion for a jury here, a jury there... and juries everywhere.
From my knowledge, the very old Satsuma predating the gilt laden & polychrome ribboned examples we've grown to understandably call "Satsuma" (export pre-fix, or not) was nearly devoid over these aspects even as the pale Shiro-Satsuma (white satsuma) which would later evolve to the style of "old Satsuma" that became increasingly demanded for.
It also was quite different in appearance and accessibility than its Kuro-Satsuma counterpart; which often found in daily everyday citizens' residences during the Edo period instead of exclusively in the Daimyo's usage like the prior.
(Very late) Edo satsuma hailing from its namesake in Kagoshima during the Shogunate's last years in power during the 19th century was (to many) arguably fathered by Chin Jukan XII; and this style quickly became the representative form for the ware to many then, and many "diehards" do now.
To me, it's true it does not always reflect export tastes seen much more uniformly represented only a handful of years later.
Honestly though, I still see a closer resemblance to it than the earlier examples of either original grouping.
Strangely regarding "Ko-Satsuma"..
It actually was produced during a somewhat overlapping timeline as Ko-Kutani; which also enjoyed a later resurgence in the 19th century, followed by reinvention or developing of new forms, and inevitably - demand for "the original."
It was indeed only in relatively recent times we began to understand our original assumptions about "Ko-Kutani" (or Ko-Kutani types) were open to somewhat of a more open debate - with scholars and collectors alike disagreeing passionately; and some feeling the distant Arita area now had reason to be lumped into a continuous discussion.
The parallels for both Kutani and Satsuma are somewhat interesting if you consider the scope of such; especially when viewed through the lens of 19th century late Edo/Meiji Japan.
(Even more so when considering Japan's entrance and evolution on the world-stage as a ceramic exporter - along with the later target audience who largely misunderstood it initially, and overlooked it when greeted with what they asked for yet again).
So, did we misunderstand the original grouping or classification of pieces?
Did they not fully reach a point to later look back on at and say what was objectively part of a certain ware category, or what wasn't?
Perhaps we were right somewhat, and forced ourselves (and others) into a situation which grew too hard to properly define - or maybe we ran along with the new norm without finding time or reason to readdress.
Maybe it's a bit of both, and also our own (understandable) desire to classify/categorize things, including those that are complex in themselves - often not given an opportunity to grow into a self-defined definition due to history.
Maybe that's what makes these things so magical, though?
Decades (or centuries) later... here we all are; still discussing, theorizing, attempting to define, and (importantly)... collecting and appreciating them & making sure they aren't forgotten.
How can you not love art and all of its history?
Happy holidays, and wishing all a wonderful New Year with 2021 - both in Asian art interests, and ourselves.