Colors of Kyoto: The Seifū Yohei Ceramic Studio showcases works in porcelain and stoneware made by the Kyoto-based studio of Seifū Yohei from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. While the studio is known for the role of Seifū Yohei III (1851–1914) as an Imperial Household Artist (Teishitsu gigei’in), it has only recently received sustained scholarly attention. The exhibition is the first in North America to comprehensively examine the studio’s output from the time of its founder, Seifū Yohei I (1801–1861), through that of its fourth-generation head, Seifū Yohei IV (1871–1951). This fulsome presentation of their creations is made possible through a gift of more than 100 individual and sets of works from the James and Christine Heusinger Collection, an assemblage strategically acquired over the past three decades with the goal of representing the full range of forms and styles produced under the Seifū Yohei name. The show and its catalogue also use the collection as a lens through which to analyze aspects of the modernization of Japan and to consider the history of international trade.
Just over 400 years ago, ceramists in Japan first successfully fired porcelain, and from the mid-1600s, Japan took advantage of a gap in the global porcelain trade left by the temporary exit of China from the market, following the demise of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and the maritime prohibitions of the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911), to secure orders for its porcelains in Europe. From the late 1800s, participation of Japanese ceramists in international expositions also became a forum for constructing national identity. While it has garnered less attention in exhibitions and publications outside Japan, there was a robust domestic market for Japanese porcelains as well, including vessels for use in sencha, or Chinese-style tea, gatherings. Colors of Kyoto features works by members of the Seifū family that reflect both the ceramics culture of Kyoto, an ancient city and former capital of Japan, as well as the artists’ engagement with Chinese forms and techniques as an alternative way to bring Japanese porcelain into the modern era at a time when Western cultures were leaving a major mark in Japan.
The exhibition is made possible by a generous gift from James and Christine Heusinger in 2022 of a comprehensive collection of works by the Seifū studio. The Heusingers put their collection together over the past three decades, taking care to select artworks in their original boxes when possible so that the names of glazes and the identities of each of the ceramists have been preserved.