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Watson Pavilion Offers New Japanese Export Porcelain Exhibit

A new exhibit of Japanese export porcelain is now open in the Watson Pavilion at Washington and Lee University.

Though often confused with and overshadowed by Chinese export porcelain, much of the most exotic, desirable and expensive porcelain available in Europe came from Japan from 1660 to 1740.

“Japanese export porcelain’s brief period of prominence had much to do with China,” said Ron Fuchs, curator of the Reeves Collection. “Prior to the 1640s, China supplied most of the world’s porcelain. Conflict resulting from the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644 and the establishment of the Qing dynasty disrupted porcelain production and export. For a few decades, Japanese potters filled this void. By the late 1600s, Chinese production resumed and by the 1740s, the greater quantities and lower prices of Chinese porcelain drove the Japanese from the export market.”

Japanese porcelain was made in the city of Arita, which had abundant sources of clay. From there, finished products were shipped from the nearby port of Imari throughout Japan. Much of the Japanese porcelain exported to Europe came via the Dutch, who were the only Europeans allowed to trade with Japan.

A global product, Japanese porcelain was influenced by indigenous Japanese, Chinese and European ceramics. Often richly decorated, it combined familiar Western shapes with unfamiliar Asian designs to create objects that were both practical and exotic.

The Japanese export porcelain exhibit is on display in the Watson Pavilion, which is part of the Reeves Center at Washington and Lee University. It is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.