The ceramics of Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) are as famous and highly regarded as those of his mentor, Nonomura Ninsei (c. 1574-1660/66). Kenzan was the younger brother of the famous painter Ogata Korin (1658-1716). Born into a prosperous family of clothiers who catered to the Kyoto aristocracy, and educated in many disciplines, Kenzan spent his youth at the artistic colony of Takagamine, which had been established by the potter and calligrapher Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637). At Takagamine, he studied pottery with Koetsu's grandson Koho (1601-1682) and with Ichinyu (1640-1696), head of the fourth generation of Raku potters. In 1688 Kenzan established his first kiln at his home in Omuro Village to the south of Ninnaji and Ninsei's kiln. Kenzan's close friendship with Ninsei is reflected in the factthat in 1699, Seiemon, Ninsei's son, gave Kenzan his father's private technical manual (densho) on the art of pottery. In the same year, Kenzan built a kiln at Narutaki, a few miles northwest of Omuro. He began to use the name Kenzan ('northwest mountain') when he opened this kiln. Kenzan's work at Narutaki was characterized by his close collaboration with his brother Korin, who painted the designs on several sets of dishes, some of the most innovative ceramics in Japanese history. Projects of this sort seem to have ended when in 1712 Kenzan once again moved his kiln (probably for financial reasons) to Nijo Chojiyamachi, a commercial ceramic district in metropolitan Kyoto. Kenzan left Kyoto in 1731; he continued to make ceramics in Edo until his death in 1743.
The style of the signature on the base of this bowl by Kenzan indicates that it was made around 1712, probably at the Chojiyamachi kiln. The deep shape and pierced openwork, a Kenzan innovation, are seen in several bowls produced at this time. Here, the shape of the bowl has been incorporated into a design of bamboo growing along the misty banks of a river found on both the exterior and interior of the piece. The bamboo and river banks are painted in overglaze green and black, respectively, against a background of white and tan slips that cover the entire surface. Wild geese painted abstractly in gold pigment fly above. Images of transition, geese are traditional symbols of both spring and autumn in East Asian art and literature.