Japanese Satsuma Style Vase

March 04, 2015 Posted by: David R. Daly

A Japanese Satsuma style vase from the Kennedy family parlor in the Beals Street house in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Resting on the mantel in the living room is this vase, one of a pair that was probably in the house during John F. Kennedy's time living there as a small boy. In a 1967 interview with the National Park Service, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy reported of these pieces "the ornaments are the original ones – vases that my father gave to me at the time."

The vases are earthenware pieces with enamel overglazes adorned with multicolored and gilded decorations, and are of a type often referred to as Satsuma ware. Satsuma ware pieces were originally developed in Japan during the seventeenth century, specifically in the southern regions of the Japanese island of Kyushu. The type of work on the piece pictured above is characteristic of later nineteenth century mass-produced pieces, manufactured at a time when the term "Satsuma" was used to refer to a distinct style instead of a geographical area. These pieces were often intended for export to Europe and North America, and gained widespread popularity with western consumers after a collection of them was included in an exhibit of Japanese arts and crafts at a Paris exposition in 1867. Common designs on Satsuma ware incorporated flowers, birds, or figures dressed in traditional Japanese clothing.

Decorating a home with oriental objects was a popular trend in the early twentieth century, when the Kennedy family lived on Bealst Street. Satsuma ware and similar pieces continued to be popular into the 1930s, although a decline in quality and changing tastes eventually led to a drop in consumer demand for it.  Whatever aesthetic appeal the vase may have held for Mrs. Kennedy, it was important to her for its connection with her father who gifted it to her, and for its association with her first home as a member of the Kennedy family.

Last updated: March 4, 2015

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