During the Meiji period (1868-1912), when this bowl was created, Japan was able to take advantage of newly established trading links with the West after almost two hundred years of seclusion. As a result of this new trade, enthusiasm for Japanese art and crafts, commonly known as Japonisme, became widespread and had a profound effect on Western art and design in the latter half of the 19th century. This intensified following the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, when Japanese art and crafts were exhibited for the first time in the West. One section was dedicated entirely to the finest works of pottery from Japan’s southernmost island of Satsuma. This cream-coloured, crackled glaze earthenware finely painted with enamels and gilding received worldwide acclaim. Satsuma wares were soon exported on a large scale, inspiring potters across Japan to create an enormous variety of pieces to cater to Western demand.
This Satsuma bowl is painted with a dense scheme of interlocking chrysanthemum blossoms (kiku-zukushi) and thousands of minute butterflies to the interior (cho-zukushi). According to East-Asian legend, chrysanthemum blossoms produce the nectar of longevity, while butterflies are regarded as a symbol of love, femininity, rebirth and eternity. Although the bowl’s detailed ornament is a testament to the painter’s skill, by the 1890s, mass production across Japan led to market saturation and a decline in quality of satsuma ware.