In 1859, after 300 years of self-imposed semi-isolation, Japanese ports re-opened to trade and the mass market in the West got its first glimpse of the country’s outstanding decorative arts. The fashion for all things Oriental quickly took hold with Europeans buying Japanese-made goods or buying locally made items that mimicked the Japanese style.
Among the ceramics which found a new popularity were Satsuma wares – a fine Earthenware with a distinctive cream-coloured ground and delicately crazed Glaze decorated with Overglaze Enamel and Gilding. From the 1870s, Japanese craftsmen had to look for new markets for their wares. They were encouraged to sell their wares to the West and Satsuma wares were exhibited at a series of international exhibitions. The subsequent export wares created a demand for more affordable, gaudier Satsuma.
The best quality pieces dating from the early Meiji period (1868-1912) represent the pinnacle of Satsuma production. They took months to make with the result that Satsuma wares were prohibitively expensive to all but the very wealthy at home and abroad.
Most Satsuma artists bought glazed blanks from potters which they decorated freehand with traditional Japanese motifs and patterns such as foliage and flowers (frequently chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, lotus flowers and leaves, prunus blossom and bamboo); landscapes (dragons, lions and unicorns); real and mythical birds; and human figures engaged in ceremonial, military or everyday domestic activities. The scenes are usually surrounded by densely filled borders of flowers such as peonies or diaper or Fretwork designs