During the Meiji period (1868-1912) Japan was taking advantage of the new trading links that were established after emerging from almost two hundred years of seclusion. As a result, enthusiasm for Japanese art and crafts, known commonly as Japonisme, became widespread and had a profound effect on Western art and design. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867 the Japanese pavilion featured 145 exhibitors, and included a large display of objects from Satsuma, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Following the success of the exhibition, Satsuma-style wares, such as this piece, were exported on a large scale to the West.
Ceramic decorating workshops mushroomed across Japan soon after Satsuma wares first received international acclaim. For this reason, it is not uncommon for workshops to have similar names, albeit written in different characters. Although this teapot’s lid bears the mark of Meizan, this example was painted by a different workshop from Yabu Meizan’s. Located in the coastal town of Kanazawa (Kaga prefecture), the Meizan workshop produced pieces for the middle range of the export market, occasionally creating exceptionally decorated Satsuma to be sold through larger retailing companies. In addition to the artist’s signature, an impressed mark to the teapot’s base indicates that the teapot and lid were made by Taizan, a pottery company based in Kyoto.
Festivals were often the subject of choice for Satsuma decorators; these depicted aspects of Japanese culture that would have been unfamiliar and very appealing to the Western mind. Here, figures of all ages are dressed in traditional costumes and have gathered to celebrate the New Year. Young boys, easily identifiable by their blue painted heads, gaze in admiration at a variety of performers while their mothers scurry behind them. Towards the left of the scene, a man wearing a gilded lion mask indicates he is performing a shishi-mai or ‘lion dance’, bringing good health, harvest and prosperity for the year. A woman at the far right tends to a kadomatsu, an arrangement of pine, bamboo and flowers which are traditionally displayed on either side of a house or temple’s entrance in the New Year.