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Asian art

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Vase with various designs in panels of different shapes

19th century


Kanzan Denshichi


1821 - 1890


Ko-Kutani (Old Kutani) wares, a distinct category of 17th century Japanese porcelain, are easily recognisable by their bold use of strong, dark enamels. They were initially thought to have been produced in kilns in the old Kaga region (present-day Ishikawa prefecture). Current thinking however is that 'Ko-Kutani' should be used as a stylistic rather than geographic descriptor, and that the wares were produced at Arita. Regardless of where the kilns were, Ko-Kutani wares seem only to have been made in the mid 1600s. The style was revived in the 1800s and was referred to as 'Kutani' to distinguish it from the earlier pieces. With their distinctive gilt-on-red backgrounds, Kutani style wares were developed and exported in huge quantities to the West.

'Ko-Kutani and Kutani Wares', The Asian Collections, AGNSW, 2003, pg.263.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan signed a number of foreign trade treaties that placed the country in a somewhat disadvantaged economic position. To support the renegotiation of these treaties the new Meiji government moved to strengthen the country’s economic position by modernising industry and in the process also encouraged craft producers to become aware of Western market potential and trends (1). In the ceramics industry this necessitated knowledge of foreign technical advances and tastes to enable Japanese potters to manufacture a competitive product. The resulting innovations in the later nineteenth century proved very successful and stimulated positive change in pottery studios.

International recognition was achieved through participation in overseas expositions, where Japanese potters won prizes such as Makuzu (Miyagawa) Kōzan (1842-1916) in Paris in 1889 and Chicago in 1893 (2). Participation in exhibitions also created opportunities for progressive ceramic artists to be represented in overseas collections through diplomatic gifts. Kanzan Denshichi's Vase with various designs in panels (p. 245), for example, was presented to the art Gallery of New South Wales by the Japanese Commissioners attending the 1879 Sydney International Exhibitions (3). This piece was made around the time that Kanzan had begun experimenting with new techniques of porcelain decoration, and 'Vase, with various designs' is in the distinct gilt-on-red style of Kutani wares that were exported in quantity to the West (3).

(1) Earle (2002, p. 407)
(2) For an in-depth account of Kōzan, see Pollard (2002).
(3) Menzies (ed) (2003a, p. 263); Pollard (2002, p. 55)

Excerpt from Daniel McOwan, 'Meiji-era export ware' in James Bennett and Amy Reigle Newland (eds.), 'The golden journey: Japanese art from Australian collections', Art Gallery of South Australia, 2009, p. 242.
© Art Gallery of South Australia 2009. Reproduced by permission.


Place where the work was made



19th century

Media category


Materials used



24.8 x 14.0 cm

Signature & date

Signed base, in Japanese, underglaze blue [inscribed] "Dai-nihon Kanzan sei [made by Kanzan from great Japan]". Not dated.


Gift of the Japanese Commissioners at the International Exhibition 1889


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Kanzan Denshichi

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Gary Hickey, Japan Review, 'Cultural Divide: Japanese Art in Australia (1868-2012), pp. 191-233, Japan, 2015, 197 (colour illus.). figure 4

Daniel McOwan, The golden journey: Japanese art from Australian collections, 'Meiji-era export ware', pg. 244-251, South Australia, 2009, 245 (colour illus.), 332 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Ceramics', Sydney, 2003, 263 (colour illus.).