A VASE IN HIDING
A story of a surprising discovery in our Chinese collection stores
By Clare Pollard, Curator of Japanese Art
4 minute read
For many years, this small red vase sat in our China collection stores, blending in amongst other ceramics just like it. When a keen graduate student took a closer look, she realised that wasn’t where it belonged at all. This week, read the story of a small vase that had a big impact on the direction of Ashmolean Curator Clare Pollard’s career.
I was a graduate student at Oxford back in the 1990s, writing my doctorate on Japanese potter Miyagawa Kozan - an Imperial Household artist and one of the most influential potters of the Meiji era (1868–1912). I was studying with the great curator Dr Oliver Impey, then Keeper of Japanese art at the Museum.
I remember discussing with Oliver one day Kozan’s extraordinary skill at producing Chinese-style ceramics that looked so authentic he was even accused of forgery. Oliver joked that there were probably Kozan pieces hiding in Chinese porcelain collections around the world. So I duly went off to check the Ashmolean’s China store and, lo and behold, discovered this little vase! After taking a closer look, I established that it was indeed made by Kozan in Yokohama, Japan in the mid-1890s.
As an aspiring scholar of Japanese art, it was the first time I realised that my research and knowledge could actually have an impact. The vase now sits on display in the Shikanai Galleries of Japanese Art, but it’s quite easy to overlook as it’s only 6½ cm tall.