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 Originally made in the town now known as Arita, which became a center for porcelain thanks to its proximity to kaolin-rich Izumiyama, Imari ware (also called Japan or Japan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

Royal Crown Derby Imari ' Elephant ' Paperweight Gold Stopper *18Antique English Porcelain Imari Floral Vases - Slight Damage But Early..Unusual 18th C Chinese Porcelain Imari Miniature Child's Tureen And CoverAntique 19thc Aesthetic Period Chinese Export Imari Porcelain Teapot, Sugar Bowl2x 1817 Spode Porcelain Handpainted 2789 Pat. Botanical & Imari Dessert PlatesEarly 19th C Hirado Imari Japanese Blue & White Porcelain Carp Plate Signed Royal Crown Derby Traditional Imari Round Muffineer W/ Lid Muffin DishFine Chinese Famille Verte Imari Cream Jug And Cover Kangxi E18thcA Very Rare Japanse Porcelain 17th Century Imari Coffee Pot19thc Antique Chinese Imari Export Porcelain Plate Dish Japanese MeijiEarly 19th C Hirado Imari Japanese Blue White Porcelain Charger Plate Ex Lg. 16"Three Art Nouveau Crown China Royal Albert Imari Gilded Trios Trio Cup Saucer PlEdo Meiji Imari Arita Kutani Garniture Export Red Gold Kinran Samurai Vase Yqz1917 Date Royal Crown Derby 3" Tall By 2 5/8" Diam Miniature Vase, Imari PatternRoyal Crown Derby Old Imari 1128 Creamer Circa 1922Antique Meiji Period Japanese Arita Imari Bottle Vase Hand Painted Japan C19thc Superb Antique Japanese Meiji Imari Double Gourd Vase With Ribbon 19th C. Four Antique/vintage Spode Stone China Salad/dessert Plates Imari Design W/goldAntique Old Imari Vase Royal Crown Derby 19thc Antique Chinese Imari Export Porcelain Plate Dish Japanese Meiji 1 Of 218th? Chinese Imari Beaker10" Imari Style Copeland Spode Dinner PlatesRoyal Crown Derby Imari 2451 " Aladdin Style " Creamer & Covered Sugar BowlAntique 18th Century Japanese Imari Plate/ Dish With Bats & Flowers,circa 1780!!Beautiful Royal Crown Derby 9021 Old Imari Tea Cup And Saucer C1937 - PerfectVintage Fukagawa Seiji Japanese Imari Collectors Plate NEarly Derby Small Baluster Vase In An Imari Pattern Number 50, Red Mark C.1810Perfect Superb Chinese Imari Porcelain Plate - Lotus&chrysanthe Scroll - 18th C.Vintage Royal Albert Heirloom Imari Pattern Jug Highly GildedRoyal Crown Derby 1128 Imari Plate, 16 Cm, 6 1/4", 1986Three Japanese Imari Bowls One MarkedAntique Chinese Porcelain Imari Lidded BoxA Kangxi Period Chinese Porcelain Imari Plate With Figures In A GardenStunning Hand Painted Brocade Imari Needlepoint Canvas Asian Oriental Antique(dated)royal Crown Derby*imari1*coffee Can(1937) & Saucer(1925)**mint**Royal Crown Derby Plate, Imari 1128, 7 Inches, AntiqueAntique Chamberlains Imari Old Derby Davenport Pattern Square Plate Gold Gilding12 Antique Staffordshire Gaudy Welsh Dessert / Salad Plates C1895 Imari Palette9 Gorgeous Royal Crown Derby Old Imari 1128 Bone China Dishes Excellent-nmStunning Hand Painted Oriental Asian Imari Flowers Needlepoint Canvas ZubreyStunning Hand Painted Ko Imari Needlepoint Canvas Asian Oriental BrunswickVintage Royal Albert Heirloom Imari Pattern Bowl Highly Gilded Imari Plate Charger Platter Landscape Meiji 6 Character Mark Hand PaintedVintage Royal Crown Derby Bone China Imari CatRoyal Crown Derby, Old Imari Pattern, Small Dish, Excellent ConditionTwo Fine Large 19th Century Japanese Imari Fan Shaped Dishes - SignedRoyal Crown Derby, Imari 1128. Salad Plate. 8.5" Perfect.C19th Japanese Imari Plate With Various PanelsF285: Real Japanese Old Imari Ware Soba Soup Cup Soba-choko Popular "aka-dama"Stunning Hand Painted Imari Needlepoint Canvas Asian Oriental FloralArt Nouveau Crown China Royal Albert Imari Gilded Cake PlateAntique Japanese Kutani Hand Painted Imari Dish Heian Prince Princess Design Antique Japanese Imari Dish Bridge Scenic Heaven And Earth PoemImari Japan Oriental Vase Lidded Jar Paneled Design Blue Red Gold Flowers EucScalloped Edge Japanese Fukagawa Koransha Imari Plate Or Dish Blue Orchid MarkAntique Imari Porcelain Oval Platter Scallop Edge 9 3/4 X 7 1/4 An Antique/vintage Imari Porcelain Bowl Hand Painted Stunning Hand Painted Oriental Asian Imari Flowers Needlepoint CanvasVery Fine Antique Chinese Kangxi 18thc Imari Porcelain Tea BowlRoyal Crown Derby Old Imari Dinner Plate