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Ask MOA: What Is This Vase?

Ask MOA: What Is It? is your opportunity to ask MOA Curators and Collections staff about an artwork or other mystery object at home that you’ve always wondered about. We select certain inquiries and objects to feature online.

This featured Ask MOA case is about a vase acquired by a family member in England in the 1800s.

Question from inquirer:

“This vase is 27 cm high and is 18 cm wide. It’s from a family member in England and it has been in the family a long time. It could have come into the family in the early 1800s from a sea captain who frequently sailed to China.”

Answer from Fuyubi Nakamura:

The vase you have is a Kutani ware (Kutani-yaki; 九谷焼) vase from Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, not from China. I don’t think it was made in the early 1800s, but towards the end of the 19th century or early-20th century, during what’s known as the Meiji period (1868-1912). The large mark on the bottom reads Dai Nippon Kutani-sei (“Made in Japan by Kutani”; 大日本九谷製). It is generally agreed that marks that includes “Dai Nippon” in Japanese characters date to the Meiji period.

This one thus belongs to a group known as Meiji Kutani, which was mostly made for export. Another smaller mark reads 陶翁, which is likely pronounced as Tō-ō (or possibly, Tō-okina), and is the pen name of the artist. One of the Japanese scripts known as kanji, which derived from Chinese characters can be read in a few different ways. Given that this is not a well-known artist I’ve heard of, I cannot say which way to pronounce it.

If you are curious to learn more about Kutani ware, you may want to check the following websites: