See 400 years of iconic Kakiemon pottery at the British Museum

World-famous Kakiemon porcelain has been made by the same family for 15 generations

Fifteen generations in the same business is a long time by any standards. No wonder that 400 years of continuous production of pots by the Kakiemon family in Japan has made it one of the most celebrated pottery dynasties and most copied styles of porcelain.

Until 21st August, the exquisite work of the Kakiemon (pronounced ‘ka-ki-e-mon’) workshop, which still operates in the same town of Arita in Japan, is on show at the British Museum. The work on display stretches back to the late 1600s when the family began producing some of the most sought-after porcelain for export to Europe and the Middle East.

The name ‘Kakiemon’ dates to 1647, when Sakaida Kizaemon introduced the overglaze enameling technique (by which more colour is added to the design after firing and the pot is refired) to Japan. The success of this form of enamel work earned him the name ‘Kakiemon’. It derived from kaki, the name of the persimmon hue of the most admired enamel.

Kakiemon porcelain was at its height of production in the 17th century, when it was particularly valued by Queen Mary II in England and avid porcelain collector, Augustus the Strong, King of Saxony.

Unsurprisingly, Kakiemon style, which is recognisable from the detail of oriental birds and flowers on a plain white backdrop, was soon copied by porcelain producers all over Europe (including the likes of Meissen, Chelsea and Worcester).

The British Museum show will also feature brand new work decorated with acorn branches by Sakaida Kakiemon XV (pictured, top, and checking his work, below) who took over the kiln from his renowned father Kakiemon XIV in 2013.

While Kakiemon-style pieces by European potteries can be picked up for £70 or so, original pieces are rich and rare, and are a delight to see in the flesh when you can.

Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 years of porcelain is at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG until 21st August. 020 7323 8299;

Images: ©The Trustees of the British Museum

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