Imari is a style of porcelain named after the Japanese port from which it was shipped to the West, beginning in the late 17th century. Originally made in the town now known as Arita, which became a center for porcelain thanks to its proximity to kaolin-rich Izumiyama, Imari ware (also called Japan or Japan ware), took its design cues from colorful Japanese textiles of the day. Exotic landscapes, gnarled trees, long-winged birds such as cranes, and depictions of courtesans in exquisitely detailed kimonos are just a few examples of the most common Imari imagery.

While Arita ware was often associated with blue-and-white pottery, the Korean-influenced Imari pieces were typically underglazed in blue to define areas filled in later with colored glazes fired at lower temperatures. Thus, blue was primarily used to create borders and backgrounds, although it was also painted on vases, tureens, plates, and lidded jars to depict leaves and other floral elements.

The most frequent Imari palette revolved around three main colors—the blue underglaze, plus a rusty reddish-orange and a brilliant gold. The popularity of this trio led to countless imitations in the West, produced by potteries as respected as Meissen in Germany and Spode in England, both of whom copied Imari freely. By the early 18th century, China was flooding the export market with inexpensive Chinese Imari of its own, making Japanese Imari prohibitively costly in the West.

The withdrawal of Japanese Imari from the Western market lured even more potteries into the Imari trade, particularly those in England, including Coalport. Foremost among them, and a strong player to this day, was Derby (now called Royal Crown Derby), which crammed its serving dishes, ginger jars, and teacups with as much pattern and decoration as their surfaces would permit.

Ornate borders were particular hallmarks of Derby, as was the use of gold—some Derby Imari almost appear to have been gilded, so laden are they with gold glaze. In the early part of the 20th century, Derby produced miniature versions of Imari vases, coal buckets, and urns, as well as paperweights in the shapes of chipmunks, birds, and farm animals such as rams.

Meissen copied Imari, as well as a style called Kakiemon, named for a 17th-century family of Japanese potters. Unlike Imari, whose colors and patterns were dense, Kakiemon pieces featured little or no blue underglaze, allowing compositions that were less cluttered and more sophisticated than the run-of-the-mill exports. In the case of Meissen, some of its early Kakiemon copies are as valued, if not more so, as the pieces that inspired them—collectors know to look for the Meissen crossed-swords mark somewhere within the design.

When the Japanese began exporting Imari again to the West in the middle of the 19th century, their artisans revived the old Imari patterns, although the quality of work from this period was often not as high as that of the Japanese Imari that had come before it, or even its English and German imitators. Numerous types of objects were produced purely for use as decoration in a home. For example, matching pairs of plates were subdivided into painted sections as they had been before, but their oversize diameters meant they were only to made for display on a wall rather than any sort of functional use. Still, some artists and factories from this period through the early 20th century are highly sought. In particular, the Fukagawa factory produced elegant vases decorated with thick vertical bands of pure pattern, pushing the borders of their pieces, if you will, to center stage.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Victorian Royal Crown Derby Imari Japan Teapot Kings Pattern 383 C1884Beautiful Pair Of Royal Crown Derby Vases Imari Pattern 2.5" X 2" X 2"Antique 14 In Lg Japanese Chinese Imari Paneled Medallion Gilt Porcelain Charger7 Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Dinner Plates ~ Cobalt ~ Gold Gilt 2451Antique Pair 9 In Japanese Chinese Imari Porcelain Medallion Export Ribbed VasesSet Of 6 Old Imari 1128 Cups And Saucers Very Old Romany Style First Quality6 Royal Crown Derby For Tiffany & Co Salad/dessert Plates 8.25" Imari Pat. 24516 Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Cups & Saucers ~ Cobalt ~ Gold Gilt 2451Antique Royal Crown Derby Imari Porcelain Heart Form Dish C.1906A Stunning And Rare Japanese Imari Tea Caddy,meiji Period.signedAntique Chinese Imari Porcelain Cabinet Plate C.1770Fine Chinese Porcelain Colored Imari Bowl 18th C. GiltAntique Royal Crown Derby Porcelain - Miniature Imari Kettle - Unusual!Antique Davenport Porcelain - Imari Patterned Vase - Unusual!Antique Japanese Hand Painted Meiji Arita Imari Meat Platter Japan C1900 StandGorgeous Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Serving Bowl Cobalt Gold Gilt 2451Antique Early English Porcelain Two Cup Imari Trio - Tea Cup, Demitasse & SaucerAntique Early English Porcelain Tea Cup, Demitasse & Saucer - Two Cup Imari TrioAntique Ca1810 Masons Patent Ironstone Pottery Imari Japan Fence Small BottleAntique Pre-1800 Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Imari Kangxi Plate Flower LandscapeJapanese Antique 130 Year Old Sometsuke Imari Ceramic Floral Design BowlJapan Late 1800's Imari Arita Kutani Cabinet Export Bud Vase Kinran Pattern YqzSuperb Antique 19thc Japanese Meiji Period Arita Imari Vase Antique Spode Porcelain Imari Pattern Saucer Dish - Early!Wo4: Vintage Japanese 5 Tea Cups Of Fukagawa Porcelain, Imari WareAntique Japanese Chinese Imari Porcelain Medallion Export Panel Plate Platter5 Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Dessert Bread Plates Cobalt Gold Gilt 2451Fine Signed Fuki Choshun Antique Japanese Arita Imari Porcelain Bird Bowl PlateVintage Royal Crown Derby Cat Figurine Imari Blue,red, Gold 18th Century Chinese Imari Porcelain Plate Qianlong / Kangxi Old Japanese imari Hand Painted Plate Koi Fish AbAntique Victorian Royal Crown Derby Imari Japan Sugar Bowl Lid Kings Pattern 383Royal Crown Derby Imari 1128 Coffee Trio, Perfect Cond "all Pieces Ping" C1980Antique English Porcelain - Two Cup Imari Trio - Tea Cup, Demitasse & SaucerJapanese Vintage: Tea Caddy Pot For Sencha By Imari Ware From Edo Period #34Royal Crown Derby Imari Porcelain Cobalt Rust Gold Gilt Bone China Floral TeacupAntique 150 Yr Old Japanese Signed Hand Painted Imari Sakazuki Sake Tea Cup Pair Antique Cobalt Gilt Imari English Ironstone China Plates C1820 Hand PaintedHighly Decorative Large 19th Century Japanese Imari Vase Royal Crown Derby English Bone China Vintage Imari 1128 Set Of 8 Salad Plates19th C Japanese Porcelain Imari Phoenix Dragon Plate Meui Era Scalloped Rim NrL743: 1900's Japanese Old Imari-ware Tea Bowl/chawan With The Lid 2sets, Vhtf2 Large Stunning 7.5" Antique Japanese Imari Hand Painted Baluster Shape VasesKangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Moulded Imari Famille Verte Large BowlAntique 19thc. Japanese Porcelain Imari Charger / Plate --meiji Antique Royal Crown Derby Imari Japan Cup Saucer Plate Trio Kings Pattern 383 7"Aynsley England Imari Tea Trio, Perfect Cond "all Pieces Ping" C1905 - 25Fine 18th Century Chinese Imari Porcelain Plate Qianlong / Kangxi Large Japanese Porcelain Imari Phoenix Dragon Platter Meui Era Blue On White NrRoyal Crown Derby Hexagonal Imari Berry Pattern Trinket Box Royal Crown Derby Imari Kings Pattern 383 Dinner PlateRare Perfect Chinese Earl 18th C. Imari Verte Porcelain Plate - Crane&tree - No2Antique Georgian Regency Derby Floral Imari Cabinet Cup & Saucer C1820Antique Imari Plate - AuthenticAntique 180 Yr Old Edo Era Japanese Old Imari Bowl Chinese Children PineVintage Lg Japanese Showa Chinese Republic Imari Enamel 12 In Panel Deep BowlPr Large 15" Antique Japanese Imari Cobalt Rust Landscape Courtyard Scene VasesHighly Collectible Fine Imari Signed 20th Century Gold Japanese Medallion BowlRare Antique Japnaese Arita Imari Haisen Sake Cup Washer Porcelain- 18th CenturyFine 19th C Japanese Imari Vase With Ruffled Rim 7.50 Inches Tall