Those following Sotheby’s myriad art auctions might have noticed when a certain imari yakimono vase was sold in September 2012. The piece was from the early 18th century, and sold for £3,250 when you factor in the buyer’s premium. Collectors noticed several interesting details about this particular item.
The domed cover is certainly exquisite. Astute observers might notice that the gilt onion finial is somewhat unique in the world of yakimono artwork. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that it’s the result of European tastes influencing imari porcelain artists.
Imari is something of a generic title for any yakimono piece made in the Arita kilns located in the former Hizen province of Kyushu. These pieces were exported throughout the 17th century and orders continued to be shipped out into the first half of the 18th century. Arita yakimono continues to be produced, and some modern works by well-known local artisans fetch quite a high price.
Since Imari in Saga served as a trans-shipment point for all Arita wares, the name stuck with European importers. The piece that made it into that Sotheby’s lot would have been designed at least in part for European tastes. The small accents and standardized style illustrate that fact. What people called the imari style in European countries became quite popular, leading to several standardized patterns being produced.
As if any further illustration of just how far Japanese yakimono pieces have spread throughout the world, one also turned up at Sotheby’s under the Important English and European Decorative Arts herald. The piece in question was allegedly Louis XVI styled, but it was very clearly an example of arita-yaki.
More than likely this vase was made around 1780, and that places it near the end of major imari production. It definitely shows. Artists who worked on it had a clear level of sophistication. Unlike earlier pieces the glazing is extremely even. This justifies the fact that it sold for well over $23,000 US.
Those who would be quick to dismiss this high price should take a moment to appreciate what they’re looking at. Since arita-yaki was mass produced for a certain audience there aren’t many pieces of it that are of such a high quality. That makes this Japanese imari ormolu-mounted porcelain vase a real diamond in the rough. Collectors who purchase this kind of material are sure to have something they can cherish for the rest of their lives.