In the 20th century, the Moon Jar became known to the West including the UK. In 1883, British studio potter, Bernard Leach, who visited twice in South Korea was amazed at the Moon Jar which made him decide to purchase. Till the Second World War, he passed the Moon Jar over to her friend, Lucie Rie, also a studio potter. She took care of the Moon Jar until her death. The Moon Jar is currently at the British Museum. The Moon Jar is recognized as the symbol of Korean cultural identity. Korean and other artists were inspired by its distinctive art form that tells its stories and life
It was in great part due to the interest of Japanese Folk Crafts scholars such as Yanagi Soetsu, Kawai Kanjiro and Hamada Shoji that appreciation, particularly of Korean ceramics, developed in the West during the first half of the twentieth century. Bernard Leach, who lived and worked in Japan for many years and also travelled to Korea, was part of this group and very influential in educating Western taste. He admired Korean pots for their natural unselfconciousness and he is known to have collected Korean ceramics and furniture, including this particularly beautiful piece of white porcelain, which he acquired in Korea in 1935 and gave to the potter Lucie Rie in 1943. She kept it in her studio until her death.
Yanagi Soetsu talks of the freedom found in Korean pots, compared to Japanese ones: “In modern art, as everyone knows, the beauty of deformity is very often emphasised, insisted upon. But how different is Korean deformity. The former is produced deliberately, the latter naturally. Korean work is merely the natural result of the artisan’s state of mind, which is free from dualistic man-made rules… Here lies buried the mystery of the endless beauty of the Korean artisan’s work. He simply makes what he wants, without pretension”.2016 National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage catalogue entries:
‘This large porcelain jar has a voluminous and globular body, evoking images of a full moon and thus today jars of this type are called “moon jars.” The jar is 47 centimetres in height, relatively large among the remaining moon jars. A discernible horizontal seam at the center of the body indicates that two bowl-shaped halves were joined together to make the jar. As a form composed of two large halves, the jars would shrink and sag in the firing which resulted in each jar having a unique, asymmetrical shape. The popularity of this form in the 17th and 18th centuries attests to a Joseon aesthetic sensibility that appreciated naturalism and spontaneity over rigid perfection. Clear, pale white glaze is applied over the surface of the jar, showing a sense of age with the crackles and scratches on it. The shoulder of the jar partially has traces of ash, adhered during firing in a kiln. The foot was roughly and deeply carved at the base, and the foot ring and the base were wiped clear of the glaze.’
- Object type
- Museum number1999,0302.1
- DescriptionGlazed white porcelain ‘full moon’ jar.
- Production place
- Made in: Korea
- Height: 47 centimetres
- Diameter: 44.5 centimetres (Widest Point)
- Diameter: 19 centimetres (mouth)
- Diameter: 16.7 centimetres (foot)
- Portal 1999
- Portal 2000 figure 8
- National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage 2016 p.17; Cat. 109; p.318, no.271
- 국립문화재연구소 2016 p.17; Cat. 109; p.318, no.271
- LocationOn display: G67/dc14
- Exhibition historyExhibited:
20/09/07-22/10/07 BM, G3, ‘The Korean Moon Jar’
2010 Apr- Jun, Tokyo, National Art Centre, Lucie Rie: A Retrospective
2010 – 2014 Nov, BM Galleries, Korea Foundation Gallery, Room 67
2013 18 Jun – 17 Aug, ‘Moon jar: contemporary translations in Britain’, Korean Culturual Centre, UK
2014 17 Dec – onwards, BM Galleries, Korea Foundation Gallery, Room 67
- Acquisition name
- Acquisition date1999
- Registration number1999,0302.1
A MOON JAR
Late Chosŏn (Joseon) Dynasty
Late 18th – Early 19th Century
34.2 cm high, 29.0 cm diam
Moon Jars were originally created in the 17th and 18th centuries as household food storage jars but have been admired as artworks since Korea’s colonial period (1910-45). They are formed as two halves thrown on a wheel before being skilfully luted together horizontally around their widest point before being glazed and fired. The joint line is visible and they are admired for their unintentionally artful asymmetry.
Yanagi Sōetsu, the Japanese philosopher and founder of the mingei folk craft movement in Japan visited Korea in 1916 and talked of the freedom found in Korean pots by unknown artisans: “In modern art, as everyone knows, the beauty of deformity is very often emphasised, insisted upon. But how different is Korean deformity. The former is produced deliberately, the latter naturally. Korean work is merely the natural result of the artisan’s state of mind, which is free from dualistic man-made rules…. Here lies buried the mystery of the endless beauty of the Korean artisan’s work. He simply makes what he wants, without pretension”. This aesthetic was introduced to the West by Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach whose splendid example, that he bought on a visit to Korea in 1935 and later gave to Lucie Rie, is now in the British Museum (BM 1999,0302.1).
The Japanese taste for anonymous works of Korean potters dates back to the so-called ‘Tea Bowl Wars’ of 1592-98 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea and simple teabowls became admired prize possessions of the Japanese daimyo, or feudal lords, who elevated them to use in the tea ceremony. At this time the Japanese also forcibly relocated many Korean potters to Japan which was to lead to the establishment of the Japanese porcelain industry. Because of the shortage of skilled potters in Korea after this the Chosŏn government found it impossible to meet the demands for pottery which is now believed to have spurred the Royal Kilns to experiment with simpler forms and unadorned shape which gave rise to such wares as Moon Jars (see: Chang, ‘Korea’s Moon Jars’, p.38).
An early example in the Aizu Museum (Waseda University, Tokyo) bears an inscription on the bottom which reads utpatsyo (Royal Larder) which suggest that they were often stored in pantries and a record exists of a colonial period Japanese collector finding a Moon Jar lying on a wooden chest in the pantry of a Korean Noble’s house. (Chang p. 48, footnote 10).
The Korean moon jar glazed in white representing Confucian ideals of frugality and purity has become a defining symbol of Korean art much explored by potters and other artists and it was a cauldron in the shape of a moon jar that housed the flame at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics in 2018.
Three chips to rim of neck, two long and three small hair cracks from neck. No restoration.
Bonhams, Lots Road, 29 February 2000, lot 287 (£15,697.72)
Private American Collection
Haely (Haeyoon) Chang, ‘Korea’s Moon Jars – Transported, Transfigured, and reinterpreted’, Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 92, no. 1/4 2018. Pp.36-49
“nature taking its course.”
It is believed that only about 20 moon jars from the Joseon Dynasty still exist.