The Art of Korean Potters, Debut of Previously-Unknown Rai Korean Art Collection

Tokyo, Japan – KMB Asian Art of Tokyo presents a special exhibition of important Korean ceramics from Koryo to Choson Periods. The selected Korean ceramics are part of the Rai Collection of Japan, which was acquired after the War and was preserved in Tokyo during the past 50 years. None of the item featured in this exhibition has been published before. The debut of this newly-found collection of important Korean art provides Korean art historians and connoisseurs with many new subjects for research and aesthetics appreciation. The exhibition opens on Mar 25th, 2008 at KMB’s Tokyo Gallery. All items are fully illustrated in details at a special exhibition website

korean-art.jpgDuring the nearly five centuries of the Koryô dynasty (918–1392), celadon was the main type of ceramics produced on the Korean peninsula. This exquisite ware typically covered with clear and highly-vitrified glaze of gray-green color. The color of Koryô celadon owes much to the raw materials—specifically, the presence of iron in the clay and of iron oxide, manganese oxide, and quartz particles in the glaze—as well as to the firing conditions inside the kiln. At the beginning of Koryo celadon production, color was an important element which was a tradition of early Song Dynasty’s ceramics aesthetics as seen on Ru and Guan wares made for the exclusive use of the Royal court. The combination of beautiful glaze with elegant forms without any surface decoration results in exceptional vessels produced during the early part of Koryo celadon production between late 11th Century and early part of 12th Century. A magnificent large lobed Maebyong vase from this early period is featured in this exhibition. The imposing large size, the pure elegance of its lobed wall, and rich green celadon glaze make this vase a notable example of early Koryo celadon.

After the Koryo potters had perfected their skill of producing perfect celadon glazes, they started to experiment with carved and incised decoration under the sea green glaze. The decorating techniques of carving on wet clay before firing was popular among Yue, Ding and Yaozhou kilns in China. Many examples of early Koryo celadon with carved and incised decoration are featured in this special exhibition from the Rai Collection. A large Maebyong fully incised with lotus and vines under an jewel-like green glaze is among the best of its kind. This beautiful Maebyon vase is comparable to a similar Maebyong (Korean National Treasure No. 97) in the collection of National Museum of Korea. Also from this group is another Maebyong carved with two large bouquets of lotus flowers. This large vase has a voluminous upper body rising from a constricted lower section with boldly carved motif of magnificent scale. Carved decoration was also popular among small items such as the lovely saucer dish with fine carving and three iron-brown fish all under a superb jewel-like glaze.

By the middle of 12th Century, Koryo ceramics patrons and potters were not content with simple color and subdued carving decoration. This coincided with the consolidation of major celadon industries near the southwestern coast of the peninsula, in Chôlla Province—the Puan and Kangjin regions especially. The latter remains, today, the center of modern celadon production and of revivals of Koryô traditions. The culmination of Koryô celadon can be seen in inlaid (sanggam) celadon, a rarity in China. The delicate technique of sanggam involves etching the desired motifs on the dry clay body and filling in the carved space with black and/or white slip, after which the translucent glaze is applied and the vessel fired. The best of Koryô inlaid celadon is breathtaking in its splendid presentation of clean form, vibrant design, and subtle yet alluring color combination of white, black, and green. The Rai collection includes many important and beautiful examples of Koryo inlaid celadon. An unusually large covered box with elaborate black and white inlaid decoration under a fine clear sea green glaze is a superb example rarely seen in public and private collection. Two bowls of Koryo inlaid celadon type are also included in this exhibition. Both bowls are fine examples with their fine glaze and rare reverse inlaid designs.

One extremely rare Koryo celadon genre was well-modelled sculptures of animals and human figures. The KMB Asian Art exhibition displays a beautiful recumbent tiger with its teeth enhanced by white slip and its fur stripes painted with iron-brown under a fine even green glaze. Animal-shaped utilitarian vessels is represented by a duck-shaped water dropper with exceptional glaze and incised enhancement to the sculpture, also from the 12th Century.

The beginning of the Choson Dynasty brought about changes in patronage, manufacturing pattern, and aesthetic taste for ceramics productions. A loosely grouped ware called Punch’ong by later scholars flourished during the 15th Century. Both the raw materials and the decorative vocabulary of punch’ông ware owe much to the famed Koryo celadon. The clay and glaze of punch’ông are essentially similar to those of celadon but less processed and refined. Punch’ông’s main decorative mode—the use of white slip under the glaze—adapts the inlay technique polished and popularized by the Koryô potters. Punch’ong wares are admired by scholars and connoisseurs for its boldness, earthiness , vibrancy, and Avant Garde energy not seen in any other Asian ceramics. The Rai collection is rich in its collection of important Punch’ong examples. A large jar with elaborate inlaid and stamped decoration from Kyôngsang Province demonstrates the transformation of rigid Koryo decorative motif towards a robust form and modern design. In contrast, the exhibition also features a flask in the shape of a pouch with bold sgraffito design of large peony flowers, a pear-shaped vase with stylized lily flowers, and an oval-shaped bottle with incised fish were produced in Chôlla Province with the typical freely executed and inventive decoration and forms.

Korean white porcelain became popular in the Royal court of Choson period. During late 15th Century, Choson court established a group of kilns called punwon (in today’s Kwangju). Early Punwon kilns in 15th/16th Centur produced white porcelains of elegant shape, impeccable high luster glaze with bluish tint, and thinly potted pure porcelain body for use exclusively in the royal court. The KMB exhibition presents two fine important plain white vessels from the punwon kilns. A very attractive 15/16th Century white jar with vertical ribs to simulate a lantern and a massive long-neck vase with globular body and long-tapered neck from the 19th Century reflects the unique Korean aesthetics for whiteness and elegant forms.

Although plain white-bodied porcelains were favored throughout the Choson period (1392–1910), decorated versions of the same wares were also produced in large quantities. The Chinese blue-and-white wares of the Ming dynasty served as one model for Korean potters, who adopted the technique of underglaze cobalt-blue decoration. Unlike its Chinese counterparts, the Choson potters worked closely with court painters to produce vessels with superb paintings rivaling surviving paintings on paper. An exceptional blue-and-white jar from the 17th Century is an excellent example of combination of professional painter’s art with the skill of potters. The large jar featured in this exhibition is decorated with a scholar seated under a pine tree overlooking a vast water and mountain landscape. The jar is also inscribed with a long poem in scholarly calligraphy. Large jar with a full-view landscape and long poem is extremely rare. This jar from the Rai Collection is indeed one of the best surviving Choson blue-and-white vessels among all know examples. Another early blue-and-white ware of a large ritual platform made for the royal court is notable for its large size, unique architectural form, and pure glaze.

Korean potters of the 16th century started to experiment with underglaze iron pigment on porcelain. The exhibition also features a vase with a boldly painted dragon among cloud in characteristic Choson potters’ humor and exuberant depiction of dragon. Rare underglaze copper-red decorated wares is also demonstrated by a jar decorated with orchids and chrysanthemum painted in cobalt blue and copper-red.

The exhibition website is presented with abundance of photos which include detailed and closeup shots of each items. Visitors to the exhibition website have the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of each fine ceramics as well as being able to conduct in-depth research of these rare examples of Korean ceramics. Private viewing of the selected items from the Rai Collection in KMB Asian Art’s Tokyo Gallery can be arranged by contacting KMB Asian Art.

About KMB Asian Art

KMB Asian Art of Tokyo is a private art dealer specializing in presenting East Asian Art through internet websites. The firm has completed successful sales of several fine Asian Art collections on major internet marketplace such as eBay. KMB is presently focusing on the cataloging and selling of the previously-unknown Rai Collection in Japan. The Rai Collection was accumulated since the end of the War in 1950’s. The Collection is notable for its large number of Chinese ceramics and important Korean ceramics and Buddhist art.