Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vintage Japanese Celadon Tableware

Recently at a local auction I was smitten with an assortment of celadon tableware.  Our local auction house typically showcases a particular estate or combined estates, so I asked about the celadon history at preview.  I was told that it came to the family from the grandparents, who were missionaries in Japan during the first two decades of the 20th century.  They returned to the states sometime in the 1920s.

I have several Asian themed articles in my home, including some furniture pieces, and I love the color green. Also, by now you know I love dishes, and my jadeite collection is one of my favorites. This celadon collection, however, was unique, and some pieces were marked by the potter who made them.

As it turned out, I won 39 pieces of the celadon, and so I set a simple table with the varied collection.  I absolutely love the organic look of the pieces, so I used my oak dining table, sans cloth, as the base for the setting. Detail of the celadon follows description of the decor.
The sideboard cabinet in my dining room is a vintage piece scored at auction several years ago.  It is Asian-themed, with wood parquetry inlay in a floral design. For my table setting, I have pulled a few vintage pieces ordinarily in the living room to complement the layout, most of which are from previous auction wins.  The folding screen is the first piece, and provides the backdrop for the additional tableware unused and placed on the side table.

The geisha girl is hand-crafted ceramic from a local artisan, and the cinnabar trinket / snuff boxes came from an auction previous to this most recent one.
The Nippon teacup and saucer are from an estate pick in North Carolina.
The vintage glass 'Everlast' fish server is also from the NC estate.
The three dimensional cork carving in glass is from a prior auction, with incredible detail.
The pagoda and cranes....the trees on the rock cliff....
Last in the decor is my vintage ceramic tea canister, also from a previous auction. It has lovely hand-painted detail of birds and florals and also dates to early 20th Century.
My favorites of the tableware include a bird-embossed plate, a lidded saki cup with underplate, and rice or water bowl.  
The utensils are vintage ivorine, an early plastic that mimics the look of real ivory. These were purchased from my blogging friend Diana, at Adirondack Girl at Heart, from her Etsy shop by the same name. I have bought several items from Diana and love her picks. 

Detail of the bird-embossed plate can be better seen in the photo below, although it is very subtle. 
Celadon is merely a single color glaze on porcelain clay, the result of the component iron oxide chemically transforming during the firing process.  It was used first by the Chinese in the region now known as Korea, and then later used in Japan.  The technique of making celadon moved from China to throughout the world, and has been found in works as far back as 1600 - 1046 BC, the Shang Dynasty. 

Japanese celadon works were influenced by those of the Chinese, and typically are of a low-key elegance with shapes of flowers, trees, plants and scenery.  This compares to the more ornate designs of Imari ware. If you look very closely at the plate pictured above, as well as some of my other pieces (generally in sets of four place servings), you can actually see flecks of iron oxide that deposited randomly in the firing of the clay. Some pieces are signed with marks I have, so far, been unable to track down, and some show unglazed base rings on the bottom, where the piece would have been perched in the kiln for firing.  

Below is a photo of two additional sets of plates (each with the plate in its entirety, the other with the plate's detail): four have a bird edge design (top half of photo), and four have a central floral design (bottom half of photo).
The shapes of the bowls (used for water and/or rice), and another, smaller set of plates are modernistic in design (see photo below).  The auctioneer was uncertain, but I believe the stack of six plates (top L corner) may possibly be for serving beverage, since the one side has a lip. He actually called them oyster plates. In that stack, another iron oxide blip is visible in the 3rd plate down.
Another serving piece in this collection I won came in an unmatched set of three, two of which are pictured below.  From the best I can find in my research, they are saki cup stands.  If you notice in one of the photos above, I have another set of (four) saki cups with lids and underplates. A stand is another utensil used in serving tea. Different from all other pieces in this group of celadon, one is hand-painted with gold, turquoise and cinnabar color designs.
The grey-green color of the celadon ware is very attractive in my eye, and I love the sleek, yin-yang contradiction of both the ordinariness and stylization of the forms. I am happy with my celadon acquisition and, even though I am unlikely to host a Japanese tea, I do plan to keep at least part of this celadon service before deciding on whether or not to sell part(s) of it.
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