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 Originally made in the town now known as Arita, which became a center for porcelain thanks to its proximity to kaolin-rich Izumiyama, Imari ware (also called Japan or Japan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

Vintage Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Imari 1128 Pattern Teapot ,Vintage Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Imari 1128 Pattern Hot Water Pot,Royal Crown Derby Imari Cat PaperweightVery Fine Antique 18thc Edo Japanese Arita Imari Armorial Porcelain DishRoyal Crown Derby Imari 2451 /cups And Saucers And Plates 33 Pcs Japanese Imari Porcelain Plate / Dish C17/18th 21cmsPair Staffordshire Spode Porcelain ~ Rich Imari 967 Coffee Cans Saucers C1820 Nr Fleurs Des Siecles Imari VasePair Of 18th C Chinese Porcelain Imari Conical BowlsE769: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Big Plate In Edo PeriodFine Masons Ironstone ~ Water Lily Pattern ~ Imari Palette A++ Condition 1820 NrRoyal Crown Derby Imari Kings Pattern 383 Trio Coffee Cup , Saucer , PlateRoyal Crown Derby Imari Mountain Bluebird Figurine PaperweightAntique Oriental Japanese Arita Imari Porcelain - Blue & White Vase - Unusual!E723: Japanese Old Imari Porcelain Ware Namasu Plate With Quality Blue Tone Royal Crown Derby Imari 9" Tray/plate ~ No Reserve Auction Fleurs Des Siecles Imari Vase.Two Antique Derby Imari English Porcelain Teacups And One Other Imari CupRare Small Antique Chinese Imari Tankard Mug Pot Cup 1700s Yongzheng Rust BlueEarly Antique Japanese Imari Porcelain Plate Or BowlJapanese Old Imari Sake Bottle Tokkuri/ Rare White Porcelain/ 6269Fine Antique Japanese Arita Imari Porcelain Bowl Cranes Blue Red No ResAntique Chinese Imari Famille Rose Export Porcelain Plate Dish Kangxi Period Crown Derby - Kings Imari Pattern 383 - Coffee Can And Saucer - 1880'sC19th Japanese Imari Vase2 Large Stunning 7.5" Antique Japanese Imari Hand Painted Baluster Shape VasesRoyal Crown Derby Traditional Imari 2451 Teapot - DamagedRoyal Albert Bone China Heirloom Imari Tea Cup & SaucerE768 Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Ware Bottle As Flower VaseE762 Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Stand Hai-dai For Sake CupAnt Pre 1800 18thc Chinese Imari Porcelain Kangxi Period Cup And Saucer FlowersRoyal Crown Derby Old Imari 1128 Cup And SaucerAntique 19th C. Japanese Blue White Gold Imari Porcelain Octagonal Plate SignedVintage Royal Crown Derby Set Of 6 Butter Knives Imari Pattern 180) Early 19thc Masons? English Ironstone Handpainted Imari Pedestal Egg Cup Vintage Japanese Nemuri Neko / Imari Kutani Sleeping Cat Porcelain / ChinaVery Pretty Foley Wileman Imari Pattern Jug Must SeeE724: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Plate In Edo PeriodE763: Real Japanese Old Imari Colored Porcelain Bowl With Dragon Painting.Fine Antique Japanese Fuki Choshun Arita Imari Porcelain Gold Gilt Phoenix CupAntique Royal Crown Derby Imari Pattern 2451 Coffee Cup & Saucer Date 1892Japanese Antique 130 Year Old Imari Ceramic Lidded Bowl Pine Tree & NamiAntique Signed Imari Japenese Asian Bowl-house Bridge TreeAntique 19th C. Japanese Blue White Gold Imari Porcelain Octagonal Bowl SignedE726: Japanese Old Imari Beautiful Painted Porcelain Ware Big Plate. 15.5 InchesE547: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue Porcelain Big Bowl. Popular Sometsuke-seijiVintage Japanese Hanging Ceramic Imari Sakazuki Sake Netsuke Oni Demon OtafukuE765 Real Japanese Old Imari Beautiful Colored Porcelain Bowl With Good PaintingNr..stunning!! Very Large Meiji Japanese Blue & White Transfer Arita Imari Bowl E878: Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Pair Of Bowl Muko-zuke.Antique Chinese Qianlong 18th C Sparrow Beak Underglaze Blue Porcelain Imari JugPerfect Octagonal 19thc Imari Vase Floral China Old #antique China Porcelain# Antique Royal Crown Derby Imari Pattern 2712 Coffee Cup & Saucer C1900Royal Crown Derby"imari" Teapot #2451 China DinnerwareRoyal Crown Derby Imari Lot Of 21Circa 1890 Japanese Imari 11" Fish-shaped Plate Hand Painted....artist SignedRoyal Crown Derby Imari Woodland Squirrel Figurine Paperweight4 Old Mason's, Staffordshire Blue Willow Polychrome Imari Variant Plates, 1850'sJapanese Antique Nishiki Meiji Kamon Namasu Saucer Imari 3 Lot With Wood CaseE764: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Bowl With Good Painting