Satsuma ware is essentially a type of Japanese earthenware pottery. It is identified by its distinctive cream-coloured crackled glaze decorated with overglaze enamel and gilding. Satsuma ware denotes all wares produced in the Satsuma domain in Kyūshū although often referred to as ‘Satsuma nishikide’ this is in fact only one type; the type most popular with Western collectors.
Satsuma ware began to be produced in the Satuma domain in the late 16th century when skilled potters were among the prisoners of war brought back from Korea after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Korean invasion of 1589. However, it was only really after an international exhibition in Paris in 1867 that the Satsuma ware caught the attention of the West and the exports to Europe began.
The most elaborate, beautiful and technically brilliant Satsuma ware was produced in the mid-19th century and is as highly prized (and priced) now as it was then. Satsuma artists were extraordinarily skilled craftsmen who had to complete lengthy apprenticeships. The export of Satsuma ware created a ‘craze’ for all things Japanese in the West and many more affordable, garish replicas were produced and although popular they could never compare to the quality and skill of the originals.
Satsuma ware of this period in the 19th century, known as Satsuma nishikide was decorated by hand. Designs were usually flowers and foliage such as lotus flowers, bamboo and chrysanthemums, animal rich landscapes including mythical and real birds, lions and dragons or scenes featuring people engaging in ceremonial, military or domestic activities. The main designs were usually surrounded by a border of flowers or fretwork.