Important Cultural PropertyLarge Vase with Butterflies and Peonies

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  • By Seifū Yohei III (1851-1914)
  • Meiji era, 1892
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • G-124

  Seifū Yohei III (1851–1914) was a potter who was active in Kyoto. In 1893, he was appointed the first Imperial Household Artist in the field of ceramics. Born as the second son of Okada Ryōhei, a painter of the Maruyama school, he was skilled at painting and became an apprentice to the painter Tanomura Chokunyū in Osaka. At the age of 15, he was adopted into the Seifū family, a potter family in Gojōzaka, Kyoto, and became apprenticed to Seifū Yohei II. Seifū Yohei III inherited his name in 1878 when Seifū Yohei II passed away from an illness. He made porcelain modeled on styles from China's Qing dynasty, and created his own unique glazing techniques and forms of expression.
  This work was made using the Method to Process Clay and Apply Relief Decoration to Thick White Porcelain Coated in a White Glaze developed by Seifū Yohei III in 1872 (Meiji 5). The vase features butterflies fluttering around a spray of peonies, with each element carved in relief and the entire surface coated in a white glaze developed by Seifū Yohei III. The appearance of these raised elements emerging from the soft white glaze has an elegance all its own that rivals that of Chinese white porcelain. The work was produced at the request of the secretariat of the Chicago Columbian Exposition and was exhibited there in 1893 (Meiji 26). At the Expo, one of Japan's goals was to show the world that decorative arts should be considered a form of fine art. This vase was well received, revealing an opening in the European export market distinct from the industrial products Japan had been focusing on, and leading to a new direction in the production of Japanese ceramic works. The vase was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 2017.