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 Originally made in the town now known as Arita, which became a center for porcelain thanks to its proximity to kaolin-rich Izumiyama, Imari ware (also called Japan or Japan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]

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]

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]

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    

C1880 Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Imari Style Pattern 524 Hand Painted 12 PlatesFine Antique 19thc Japanese Imari Hand Painted Underglaze Blue Edo Marks BaseAntique Royal Crown Derby China - Imari Flower Decorated Biscuit Barrel - Early!Japanese Blue & White Arita Porcelain Dish C18th + Cursive Fuku Imari Plate3 Antique 19thc Chinese Famille Rose / Imari Miniature Vases Circa 1870Vintage Royal Crown Derby "old Imari" 5pc. Place Setting ~ #1128 ~ Listing #4Antique Kangxi C18th Chinese Imari Plate Circa 1710Unusual Antique Kangxi C18th Chinese Imari Saucer Dish Circa 1720Vintage Royal Crown Derby "old Imari" 5pc. Place Setting ~ #1128 ~ Listing #14 Vintage Imari Cups & Saucers #2451 Royal Crown Derby England NrVintage Royal Crown Derby "old Imari" 5pc. Place Setting ~ #1128 ~ Listing #2A Chinese Kangxi Imari PlateAntique - Royal Crown Derby - Small Gilded Imari Pedestal Bowl - Pattern 6299Antique Kangxi C18th Chinese Imari Plate Circa 1710Vintage Royal Crown Derby "old Imari" 5pc. Place Setting ~ #1128 ~ Listing #3Massive Japanese Imari Charger 48cmLarge Antique 19th Century Japanese Imari Porcelain BowlMaitland Smith Pair Of Beautiful Gold Imari Blue Red Vases Ginger Jars 13.5" Antique Chinese Imari Porcelain Bowl4 Vintage Imari Dessert/salad Plates #2451 Royal Crown Derby England Nr1800-22 Derby Porcelain Coffee Can In Imari ColoursPair Attractive Japanese Imari Plates Beautifull & Rare! 18c Imari Plate With Long Liza Antique Chinese Porcelain QingAntique Japanese Meiji Era Imari Porcelain Serving Bowl Swirl In Molded ReliefD927: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Namasu Plate In Edo Era D899: Japanese Old Imari Porcelain Namasu Plate With Dragon Popular Yokoku.Set Of 3 Old Large 10&1/4" Masons Imari, Blue Willow Plates, Circa 1850'sAntique 18thc Chinese Imari Punch Fish Bowl Circa 1730Antique 19th C. Japanese 8 1/2" Ribbed Imari Covered Jar Or VaseRoyal Crown Derby Victorian 1898 ~ Quality Imari Cup & Saucer 2 Royal Crown Derby Imari 2451pattern 8.5 Inch Salad Plates Beautifull & Rare! 18c Imari Plate With Long Liza Antique Chinese Porcelain QingRare 12" Japanese Imari Peacock Gold Gilt Floral Round Footed Serving PlatterB6786:japanese Old Imari-ware Colored Porcelain Flower Pattern Soba Cup SobachoVintage Royal Crown Derby Old Imari 1128 English Bone China 10 5/8" Dinner PlateLarge Round Imari Japanese Gilt Platter With Scalloped Edge. Cherry BlossomsB6793:japanese Old Imari-ware Dragon Pattern Tea Bowl/dish Of Soup With The LidImari 8 Sided Serving Plate Raised Rim Hand Painted Cobalt & Iron Red AntiqueJapanese Imari Ceramic Ginger Jar Vase Ox Blood Famille Rose Chinese Geisha3 Pcs Gold Imari-2-vintage Hand Painted Jardinieres And 1-14 1/2" Charger Plate B6751:japanese Old Imari-ware Blue&white Flower Pattern Tea Cup Senchawan 5pcsVintage Japanese Imari Small Cat FigureAntique Chinese Porcelain Imari Famille Verte 3toed Dragon Vase Garniture 9" HAntique Japanese Imari Wall Plate Blue/ Red 9" ApproxVintage Antique One(1) Japanese Imari Porcelain PlateRare Japanese Iro-e Ko Imari Bowl / Dish Edo Period 18th C - SymbolsOld Japanese Meiji Period Imari Rust Blue Gold Painted Porcelain 6" Dish PlateB6982: Japanese Old Imari-ware Shapely Haisen Bowl For Washing SakecupVintage Royal Crown Derby Old Imari 1128 English Bone China 8 1/2" Salade PlateSuper Quality Antique Japanese Imari Porcelain Charger Meiji Impressive 18.5" B6502: Japanese Old Imari-ware Butterfly Pattern Tea Bowl/dish Of Soup 2pcsB6679:japanese Old Imari-ware Crane Bird Pattern Kashiki Dessert Bowl/dishB6869: Japanese Old Imari-ware Colored Porcelain Tea Bowl/dish Of SoupB6598:japanese Old Imari-ware Tea Bowl/dish Of Soup With The Lid 2pcsB6564:japanese Old Imari-ware Blue&white Tea Bowl/dish Of Soup With The Lid 2pcB6858:japanese Old Imari-ware Tea Bowl/dish Of Soup With The Lid 2pcsRoyal Crown Derby Traditional Imari 2451 Footed Cup & Saucer Set Vintage Antique One(1) Japanese Imari Porcelain Small PlatePair Of 19th Century Japanese Imari Plates - 10" - Excellent ConditionAntique Bohemian Porcelain Fischer & Mieg Pirkenhammer Imari Plate 19th C.