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Japan | Japanese Antique Furniture and Decorative Arts

Japanese Decorative Arts in 19th Century English Country Houses

Japan’s importance in the decorative arts of the 19th century, particularly in pieces made and exported to the English country house, cannot be overstated. The late Edo period (1603-1868) saw a relaxing of Japan’s deliberate isolation policy, known as Sakoku, which had restricted foreign trade and limited contact with the outside world. This relaxation of Sakoku during the Meiji period (1868-1912) opened up new opportunities for trade and export, resulting in a significant impact on the decorative arts market.

One of the most notable areas of Japanese decorative arts during this time was lacquerware. Japanese lacquer, known as “urushi,” is a traditional craft that has been practiced in Japan for centuries. The Meiji period saw an increase in the production of lacquerware for export, as demand grew in the West for its intricate designs, durability, and exquisite craftsmanship. Japanese lacquerware, with its glossy and often highly detailed surfaces, became highly sought after by collectors and wealthy patrons in England, particularly in the English country house setting.

In addition to lacquerware, other Japanese decorative arts such as furniture, porcelain, and Imari ceramics also gained popularity in England during the 19th century. Japanese furniture, known for its simplicity, functionality, and craftsmanship, was often incorporated into English country house interiors as exotic and fashionable additions. Japanese porcelain, with its delicate forms and distinctive blue and white Imari patterns, also captured the attention of collectors and decorators in England, who used them to adorn their homes and showcase their taste for exotic and luxurious objects.

The late Edo and Meiji periods also saw the emergence of export markets for Japanese decorative arts, with many pieces specifically produced for export. Japanese artisans adapted their traditional techniques and designs to cater to Western tastes, resulting in unique and distinctive pieces that were highly sought after in the English country house market. These exports helped shape the perception of Japan as a land of exquisite craftsmanship and exotic beauty in the Western world, and had a significant influence on the decorative arts and interior design of the time.

Overall, Japan’s importance in the decorative arts of the 19th century, particularly in pieces made and exported to the English country house, cannot be overstated. The relaxation of Japan’s isolation policy, combined with the growing appetite in the West for Japanese exports, resulted in a significant impact on the decorative arts market, with Japanese lacquerware, furniture, porcelain, and Imari ceramics becoming highly coveted and influential in the English country house setting.

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