Press release

Deferred export of ‘world class’ Japanese Imari lacquered porcelain from Princess Diana’s childhood home

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on a set of Japanese Imari lacquered garniture

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the set of three lidded jars and two trumpet vases in the United Kingdom. 

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the garniture is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of Japanese export porcelain, the study of trade between Japan and Europe, and the study of the consumption of luxury goods in Britain. The Committee awarded a starred rating to the set, meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country.

This unusually large, rare and highly significant five-piece garniture, previously owned by the Spencer Family at Althorp, is a spectacularly decorated example of Imari-ware porcelain made in Arita in south-western Japan.  It is extremely unusual for the way in which large parts of the jars’ and vases’ surfaces are covered in black lacquer with mother-of-pearl and gold hiramaki-e (‘flat sprinkled picture’) decoration.  Porcelain and lacquer were among the most highly sought after of Japanese commodities in 17th and 18th Century Europe as they symbolised the wealth and taste of their owner. This collection with the addition of mother-of-pearl would have been the ultimate luxury item.

Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said:

“These are truly remarkable objects of huge aesthetic importance.  They are of global importance and a key set in the study of manufacturing techniques, European taste and trade between Japan and Britain in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries.”

The decision on the export licence application for the garniture will be deferred for a period ending on 1 April 2011 inclusive.  This period may be extended until 1 July 2011 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the garniture at the recommended price of £109,250 [plus VAT, exact amount to be confirmed and which can be reclaimed by most public museums] is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the garniture should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Grosvenor House
14 Bennetts Hill
B2 5RS

Notes to Editors

  1. For all media enquiries please contact Sunita Sharma, Senior Media Relations Adviser at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, on 020 7273 8299, email:

  2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
    (RCEWA) please contact Anastasia Tennant, AELU Manager, on 0207 273 8271, email

  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

  4. The details of the garniture are: A Japanese Imari lacquered porcelain garniture comprising three oviform vases and domed covers and two trumpet vases, each decorated in iron-red and gilt on underglaze blue with lobed panels depicting temple buildings among maple and cherry blossom, the panels bordered with peonies and chrysanthemums in coloured Japanning, in parts over the original Japanese lacquer design in gold hiramaki-e and black lacquer on a black lacquer ground, divided by wide panels of irregularly-cut mother-of- pearl set into a black ground, the domed covers with pear shaped finials.

Trumpet vases: 62 cm high
Vases and covers: 90 cm high


Possibly Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) and thence by descent through her daughter Anne (1683-1716), wife of Charles, 3rd Earl of Sunderland (1675-1722) to her favourite grandson Hon. John Spencer (1708-46), father of John, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783).

Key literature:

W.B. Honey, Catalogue of the Porcelain and Pottery both Oriental and European in the Collection of the Earl Spencer at Althorp, 1937, no. 338 C. Spencer, Althorp, The Story of An English Country House, London, 1998, p.83 (illustrated in situ in the Great Dining Room)

Further details about the Japanese Imari lacquered porcelain garniture can be found in the auction catalogue at the Christie’s website. 

An image of the set of Japanese Imari Garniture can be downloaded from the DCMS Flickr stream.

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Published 2 February 2011