Monthly Archives: September 2021

“Kakiemon Porcelain: “From Pleasure Quarters to Palaces”

On Thursday 9 September, we were delighted to welcome expert  Alexandra Aguilar via our Zoom meeting. Alexandra Aguilar is an auctioneer and Asian Art specialist with particular expertise in Japanese works of art. Originally from Dijon, Alexandra studied in France and England, before completing her Master’s degree on Scottish Collections of Japanese Art at the University of Edinburgh. Alexandra now regularly appears on The Antiques Roadshow in her capacity as Asian Art specialist.

Japan has been producing porcelain with overglaze enamels for nearly 400 years, but the early history of the technique is still shrouded in mystery. This talk considered the background to its inception and  concentrated on the particular case of Kakiemon figures. It illustrated the richness and complexity of the aesthetic language behind these three-dimensional models of ‘beauties’ (bijin), gods, animals and other mythical creatures. The huge enthusiasm for Kakiemon figures in 17th century Europe was also discussed, and Alexandra explored how the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie) monopolised the trade for Japanese polychrome porcelains and how it rapidly dwindled, after only a few decades.

As the Head of the Japanese Art Department at Woolley & Wallis Salerooms, Alexandra has had a number of significant finds, including a 17th century Kakiemon figure of a bijin and an unusual model of a Kakiemon minogame; examples of namban artworks including a rare gold lacquer table and a box and cover with cabriole legs; and several fully articulated models of animals (jizai okimono) including snakes, a dragon fish and a large model of a hawk. Alexandra is now concentrating her research on depictions of Europeans in 17th century Japanese art, with a particular emphasis on lacquer work.