Kyoto had a long tradition in pottery, dating back from the early 1600’s. These kilns were built along the eastern mountains of Kyoto at Awataguchi, Kiyomizu and Otowa, which became the centers of Kyoto ware. Most of the kilns were located in
Awata, where according to documents from that time, the fire in the kilns were burning day and night, trying to meet the enormous demand for Satsuma ware. Kyoto was one of the most successful and largest producers of Satsuma-like ware in a style
that became known as Kyo-Satsuma. Kyo-Satsuma received high reputation from abroad after the World Expo in Paris because it was attractive, colorful and appealing to western taste
The painting technique used in Kyoto’s Satsuma-style ware was developed
by Kinkōzan Sōbei lV (1824–1884), the sixth generation of a family of Kyoto Awataguchi potters with the name Koboyashi.
Note that that Kinkōzan Sōbei lV (1824–1884), was the sixth generation of a family of Kyoto Awataguchi
potters with the name Koboyashi / studioname Kagiya (see: Japanese Biographical Index, B. Wispelwey, Muchen 2004 ). In the 18th century the third Koboyashi was granted by the Shogun to bear the name Kinkozan. So the line of potters with the name Kobyashi
starts two generations before the Kinkozan name was granted to this family. That makes that Kinkozan IV erroniously also is known as Kinkozan VI, and his son, the last Kinkozan as Kinkozan VII)-
Kinkozan Sobei IV was appointed as the official potter
for the Tokugawa shogunate and his oven flourished in those years. But as a result of the Meiji restoration, he lost important clients such as the shogun, daimyo and other nobles who lost their former position or moved to the new capital Edo. To find new customers,
he established trade relationships with foreign exporters who lived in Kobe and invested in refining the painting method for pottery and decoration, which ultimately resulted in "Kyo-Satsuma" ware, characterized by delicate, sometimes breathtaking detailed
brushwork in multicolored glazes and gold on a crackled ivory white earthenware body. After the death of Kinkozan Sobei IV, the studio was passed on to his son Kinkōzan Sōbei V (1868-1927), who further developed the Kyō Satsuma techniques and succeeded in
becoming the largest producer of Satsuma ware of that time but also a producer of some of the best quality Satsuma items. But the demand for Satsumaware completely changed the way of production and the time given to artisans to realize the goods. Satsuma was
produced in huge quantities and most factories of Satsuma products only served western households with cheap mass production, without any interest in quality. The latter can best be illustrated by an eyewitness report of Edward Samuel Morse, around 1880 (quoted
in Japanese ceramics of the last 100 years, by Irene Stitts):
“ The entrance to the potteries was reserved and modest; and within we were greeted by the head of the family and tea and cakes were immidiately offered us. It seems that members
of the family alone are engaged on this work; from the little boy or girl to the grandfather, whose feeble strength is utilized in some simple process of the work. The output is small, except in those potteries given up to making stuff for the foreign trade,
known to the Japanese as Yokohama muke; that is for export, a contemptuous expression. In many cases outsiders are employed; boys often ten years old splashing on the decoration of flowers and butterflies, and the like; motives derived from their mythology,
but in sickening profusion, so contrary to the exquisite reserve of the Japanese in the decoration of objects for their own use. Previous to the demands of the foreigner the members of the immediate family were leisurely engaged in producing pottery reserved
in formand decoration. Now the whole compound is given over to feverish activity of work, with every Tom, Dick and Harry and their children slapping it out by the gross. An order is given by the agent for a hundred thousand cups and saucers. “Put
in all the red and green you can” is the order as told me by the agent, and the haste and roughness of the work confirms the Japanese that they are dealing with people whose taste are barbaric.”
The situation described by Morse applied
to many of the potteries and studios that produced Satsumaware in later Meiji times, and the inferior results can be seen every day at sites such as ebay, at flea markets and garage sales. It is clearly not the type of Satsuma pottery, which is interesting
for a collector. But Satsuma objects can be found in a wide range of quality, from the worst to the highest level, depending on the intentions of the manufacturer and the skills of the artisans involved. Although Satsuma remained a popular export product,
the fascination and admiration of serious collectors for Satsumaware declined rapidly, a natural reaction after the overkill of Japan-related products in the years of Japonism. At the 1893 Colombian exhibition in Chigago, the criticisms of Satsumaware were
negative due to the lack of artistic development since the exhibitions in previous years. Kinkozan Sobei V, who succeeded the factory after his father's death in 1884, was shocked by the negative critics, but also impressed by the new techniques and stylish
innovations on Western ceramics. He decided to invest in research and experiments, hired Western scientists to set up new techniques and experiments with materials and employed some of the best artists for new designs and decorations, influenced by the Art
Nouveau and later Art Deco movement. He experimented with monochromes and other new types of decoration on both porcelain and eathenware, and tried out all possible styles, from large palacevases suitable for the old Victorian houses, to miniature items,
real gems of only 6 cm high. Some of his best objects were made in the late Meiji and Taisho period.
There were more artists like Kinkozan who did not fully sacrifice their quality standards to meet the huge demand for Satsumaware. Taizan Yohei, Kinkozan,
Chin Jukan, Seikozan,Yabu Meizan, Ryozan end Miyagawa Kozan produced real masterpieces during the Meiji period and later. But in addition to these most famous artists, there were many other artists who produced Satsuma goods at a consistently good quality
level: Hattori, Hododa, Meigyokuzan, Sozan, Kaizan, Genzan, Fuzan, and many others were able to produce the highest quality, although not every object can meet this qualification. Just like Kinkozan, they had to produce lower quality Satsuma items in order
to survive in a shrinking market. A very high quality object can sometimes take months to realize, and for most of the kilns, studio’s or factories this was no longer a realistic option in a market that was subject to the changing taste of customers
and strong competition from hundreds of smaller and larger factories and studios. The Kinkozan studio ceased to exist after the death of Kinkozan V in 1927.
During the Taisho period there was a further decline in the demand for Satsuma pottery.There
is of course no clear separation between the Meiji and the Taisho period, such terms are only intended to give an indication of the differences that can be observed over time. And it must be said that a great deal of beautiful work still was made in the Taisho
period. The Kinkozanstudio closed only in 1927, at the end of the Taisho period, Yabu Meizan worked until his death in 1934, and also after the death of the famous Chin Jukan XII in 1906 excellent work was made by his descendants. So high quality Satsuma
work still was produced during Taishoperiod, but not in that amount anymore as in the years before.
Due to the outbreak of the First World War, exports to Europe and the United States stagnated, and although the following years were characterized by
high economic activity in the United States, where there was of unbridled economic growth, this did not lead to more interest in high-quality Satsuma ware. The rich westerners who could afford these pieces and for whom it was intended had lost their interest
in Japan, and more and more the emphasis was shifting to the production of cheap, quickly fabricated products of inferior quality. In the 1930s, after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, that only became worse.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, economic
setbacks led Japan to fall under the increasing influence of ultra-nationalist, expansionist military leaders. This led to the invasion of Manchuria (1931) and a second Sino-Japanese War (1937), the prelude to the second world war. After the war, there was
only increased production for the benefit of the many American soldiers who were stationed there and wanted to take home a souvenir. Although Japanese ceramics in general may be called innovative after the second world war under the influence of the Sodeisha
movement, this does not apply to Satsuma pottery. With the exception of only a few potteries as Chin Jukan the production of serious Satsuma work focused on quality and artistry only recently has started again. For the average western collector of Satsuma
pottery, the Meiji period remains the most important era.
To conclude this short history: Remember that everything of the kind of Satsuma pottery that we admire and collect today was explicitly intended for export to Europe and the United States, and
it is precisely here in the West that Satsuma pottery from the Meiji period is abundantly present. That makes collecting possible, it's just here! The most important question is therefore not where Satsuma pottery can be found, but how to distinguish between
good and bad quality. And it is very satisfying to find a little gem among that large amount of mediocre or even inferior products.