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 Originally made in the town now known as Arita, which became a center for porcelain thanks to its proximity to kaolin-rich Izumiyama, Imari ware (also called Japan or Japan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 Chinese Imari Porcelain Tea Pot & Cover Circa 1780sKangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Imari European Style TeapotLarge Antique Signed Japanese Imari Porcelain Vase, Mountain Landscape PaintingKangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Imari European Decorated Bowl18th C Chinese Kangxi Porcelain Blue And White Imari Floral Large Plate ChargerLarge Royal Crown Derby Imari Scalloped Dish19c Bute Cup And Saucer In Imari Colours - Coalport/spodeKangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Imari Fluted TeapotAn Attractive Chinese Imari Export Porcelain Teapot, Early 18th C. Vtg Signed Limoges French Peint Main Imari Style Round Porcelain Trinket Box NrAntique 19thc Japanese Meiji (1868-1912) Fukagawa Koransha Imari Porcelain PlateD083: Rare Japanese Old Imari Porcelain Ware O-namasu Plate In 1700's Big Size.Kangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Imari Landscape BowlNippon Kutani Imari Arita Moriage Porcelain Taisho Gold Lithopane Vase Nr YqzAntique Pair Japanese Porcelain Imari Plates Blue Red Hand Painted Scalloped RimBeautiful Royal Crown Derby China Imari Blue Red Gold Cabinet Cup And SaucerRare Royal Crown Derby Imari Pattern Miniature Watering Can.excellent Condition.Pair Of 19th C. Japanese Imari Stacking BoxesJapanese Antique 180 Yr Old Imari Ceramic Teacup Hand Painted Chrysanthemum Plum19c Spode Pattern 3278 Dessert Plate In Imari ColoursJapanese Antique Signed 130 Yr Old Imari Ceramic Hand Painted Bowl Amime NetRoyal Crown Derby Imari 1992 Christmas Plate Boxed With CertKaga Nippon Kutani Imari Arita Moriage Export Porcelain Taisho Gold Dish Nr YqzVintage Royal Crown Derby - Old Imari Miniature Vase - Nice!A Fine Blue & White Arita (ko-imari) River Landscape Porcelain Dish. C1790-1830Pair Antique Turner's Patent Imari Pattern 9" Staffordshire Ironstone Plates Antique Spode Imari Pattern Ironstone Bowl 9 1/4"Very Large Antique Japanese Porcelain Imari Charger - 45 Cm / 18 Inches BiuzRoyal Crown Derby 1st Quality Imari Plate, "old Imari" #1128, 9 1/8" DiameterPo1: Japanese Hand-painted Tea Plate, Imari Ware, Kakiemon Style, Tea CeremonyMeiji Japanese Handpainted Porcelain Imari Blue Red Plate 19th C. 11"Large Antique 17th/18th C Chinese Kangxi(1662-1722) Imari Porcelain Plate Antique Rare Decorative Japanese Imari Porcelain Scalloped Edge 21cm. Plate,D053: Japanese Old Imari Beautiful Colored Porcelain Ware Plate W/fine PaintingAntique 1880's Japanese Imari Plate # # Fine Chinese 18th C. Imari Porcelain Plate - Rock&florals - QianlongSuperb Chinese 18th C. Fam Ros Imari Porcelain Plate - Tree&florals - Qianlong#712: 1880's Japanese Old Imari-ware Tea Bowl/chawan With The Lid 2setsTwo Kangxi / Qianlong Imari Plates With Floral Decoration Japanese Old Imari Multitiered Box, Bowl/ Blue & White Porcelain/ 0255Pe8: Japanese Bud Vase Of Fukagawa Porcelain With Wooden Box, Arita, Imari Ware 3x Victorian(1877-90)*crown Derby*coffee Can/saucer & 7" Plate(imari/kings/383)Beautiful Royal Crown Derby China Imari Blue Red Gold Cabinet Cup And SaucerAntique 100+ Year Old Japanese Ceramic Imari Tokkuri Sake Jug#675: 1880's Japanese Old Imari-ware Phoenix Pattern Ornamental Plate/dish 5sets1970 Royal Crown Derby "imari" Toothpick HolderSuperb Vintage Chinese Imari Flowered Porcelain PlateRoyal Crown Derby Old Imari Scalloped Pin Dish 4"D055: Real Japanese Old Imari Colored Porcelain Plate With Rare Pink PaintingA Chinese Porcelain Imari Oval Shaped Spoon Tray Dish Qianlong Period 18thc QingRoyal Crown Derby China - Old Imari 1128 - 2 Five Piece Place Settings - 10 PcsRoyal Crown Derby China - Old Imari 1128 - Flat Rim Soup Bowl18th Century Japanese Verte Imari Porcelain Plate, Wanli Mark To BasePe3: Vintage Japanese Incense Case Of Imari Ware, Kakiemon Style, Tea Ceremony2 Japanese Imari Plate 18 Century Chenghua MarkAntique Japanese Imari Ribbon PlateVery Decorative Pair Of 19thc Moore & Co Miniature Japanese Vases - Imari StyleTiffany & Co. Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Bone China Serving Plate*duo*victorian(1898cypher)*crown Derby*coffee Can & Saucer(imari/kings/383 Patt)Royal Crown Derby Cock Pheasant Imari Pattern Paperweight No Stopper