Two-panel folding screen; ink, mineral colors, and shell powder on silk
60¼ x 61¾ in. (153 x 157 cm)
Kamakura Kokyo here depicts the shady corner of a hillside garden nestled in the lower slopes of the mountains that surround much of his native Shiga Prefecture. The composition is anchored by a stone basin located toward the bottom of the left-hand panel, used by visitors to wash their hands, perhaps just before entering a private tea room. A range of lush green hues, contrasted with the white blossoms of a woodland flower, suggest the cool moisture of an evening during the midsummer rainy season.
Born in Otsu, about ten miles from Kyoto on the shore of Lake Biwa, Kokyo was apprenticed to Yamamoto Shunkyo (1872–1933), another native of Shiga Prefecture native and famous for his landscape paintings not just of Japan but also of North America. Unlike his teacher, Kokyo did not travel far or take part in the Tokyo national exhibitions but instead remained in the Otsu area, in 1940 forming the Omi Bijutsujinkai, an association of eleven painters in Nihonga (neo-nativist) style.
Tiered Accessory Box with Cormorant and Fish
Maki-e lacquer on wood with silver rims
8¾ x 11¼ x 8¾ in. (22.5 x 28.5 x 22.5 cm)
A tiered box comprising of a suzuribako (box for traditional writing utensils), a box for paper and a lid, the three fitting together in inrōbuta (flush-fitting) style, with rounded corners, chiri-i (edges) and pewter rims; the decoration executed in multi-colored lacquer, the surface divided on the sides into 49 or 63 squares and on the top into 63 squares, each containing a pattern of concentric rings, superimposed on the top by a single cormorant in flight diving toward stylized fish and seaweed superimposed on the sides; the interiors in black lacquer sprinkled with gold and silver hirame flakes; the suzuribako fitted with fude-oki (brush tray), suzuri (ink stone), and metal suiteki (water dropper) in the form of a tea kettle with a swing handle and removable lid.
Comes with the original fitted paulownia-wood tomobako storage box inscribed outside U to uo jūtebako (Tiered accessory box with cormorant and fish); dated inside to October 1933 and signed with a seal.
Fourteenth Teiten Exhibition, Tokyo, 1933
Nittenshi Hensan Iinkai (Nittenshi Editorial Committee), Nittenshi 11 (History of the National Salon 11), Teiten hen 6 (The Teiten Exhibition 6), Tokyo, Nitten, 1983, no. 53.
Accessory Box with Irises
Circa 1935, Japan
Maki-e gold and colored lacquer
6¾ x 16¾ x 13¼ in. (17 x 42.7 x 33.8 cm)
A tebako (accessory box) of standard historical form with rounded corners and slightly bowed sides, the kabusebuta (overhanging lid) with a narrow chiri-i (“dust-ledge”) and slightly domed top, the wood substrate entirely covered outside in polished red lacquer decorated on the top and sides in gold and aokin hiramaki-e and takamaki-e with flowering irises, the interior with a gold-lacquer ground decorated in black, red, and gold maki-e with stylized nadeshiko (pinks, Dianthus superbus), metal rims.
Little information is available regarding this lacquerer beyond the information that he lived in Tokyo and was already active in 1929. This splendid box shows him to have been an outstanding master of the more naturalistic maki-e (“sprinkled picture”) style developed during the 1920s by artists such as Akatsuka Jitoku (1871–1936), with skillful relief modeling and surface textures contributing to a decidedly painterly appearance. In complete contrast to the exterior of the box, the inner surfaces are finished in a striking emulation of an Indian woodblock-printed cotton (chintz) pattern that simultaneously evokes the luxurious silk-brocade linings seen inside some medieval Japanese boxes.
Box with Shell Decoration, “Cherry-Blossom Banquet”
ca 1990, Japan
Maki-e gold lacquer and shell inlays on wood
5 x 12½ x 12 in. (13 x 32 x 30.6 cm)
A decorative box of unusual form, the body comprising a lid formed from seven pieces with a flat top, angled long sides and vertical short sides, and a container formed from five pieces with vertical sides and a wider base, the lid meeting the base in inrōbuta (flush-fitting) style; the decoration of the short sides executed in strips of abalone; the decoration of the long sides and top executed in gold, silver, and colored hiramaki-e and takamaki-e (low- and high-relief “sprinkled picture”) against gold hirame flakes on a black-lacquer ground, the flakes densely packed on the top but less so on the sides; the principal motifs leaves and flowering strands of weeping cherry; the interior and underside plain black lacquer.
Comes with the original fitted wooden tomobako box inscribed outside Yōgai kazaribako Sakura no en (Box with shell decoration, “Cherry-Blossom Banquet”); signed and sealed inside Shun; tomogire wrapping cloth sealed Shun; printed artist résumé with final date of 1990.
A leading figure in the world of Kyoto art crafts, like some of his contemporaries Hattori Shunshō based his mature style on a unique combination of two major constituents within the traditions of East Asian lacquer. The first was his native city’s distinctive maki-e (“sprinkled picture”) technique, using finely powdered precious metals sprinkled onto still-damp lacquer to create pictorial designs. The second, especially during his latter decades, was the raden technique of shell inlay, historically practiced not only in Japan but also in China, Korea, and the Ryukyu Islands (present-day Okinawa). Bold, sometimes semi-abstract shell inlay is a noted feature of lacquer works in the Rinpa decorative style that flourished in Kyoto from the seventeenth century and although Hattori’s approach to the material was very much his own, it contributed to the “Neo-Rimpa” appearance of many of his later works. Like other twentieth-century Japanese artists, he favored the gleaming, lustrous, and very thinly cut shell used here—known generically as yōgai (abalone)—which he imported from Mexico and New Zealand.
Born in 1943, from 1963 Hattori exhibited frequently at the Nitten national exhibition and the Kyoto Craft Art exhibition, winning many prizes at both events. In 1975 he was selected by the Bunkachō (Agency for Cultural Affairs) to undertake a tour of Europe and the United States, studying etching in Sweden, working in Paris with the British surrealist Stanley William Hayter, and attending workshops in New York. In 1995 he was granted an audience by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, to whom he presented a lacquered lectern. He exhibited in the Netherlands, New York, and South Korea, and in 2005 was commissioned to create furniture for the Imperial Guest House in Kyoto.
Toward the end of his long career Hattori developed a semi-pictorial manner, depicting subjects such as views of Patras Harbor in Greece, sunlight reflected on water or, as here, radical reworkings of traditional Japanese themes such as flowering cherry blossom. Here Hattori evokes the joyful spirit of the annual hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) season, emphasizing the classical origins of the flower as both a literary and a pictorial motif by choosing to name his work Hana no en (A Banquet Celebrating Cherry Blossoms), the title of Chapter 8 of the world-famous eleventh-century novel Genji monogatari. The chapter relates how the young Prince Genji (aged twenty) meets a lover during a cherry-blossom banquet at the palace. The banquet takes places at night, evoked here by the box’s black background and interior, while the bold shell design perhaps suggests the brightness of the moon or palace lanterns.
Lacquer Folding Screen with Tiles
Maki-e gold and colored lacquer on wood with shell inlays
22¾ x 71¾ x ¾ in. (57.7 x 182.2 x 1.7 cm)
A low two-panel byobu (folding screen) worked in colored lacquer with shell inlay depicting ten black or ochre kawara (ceramic roof tiles), some with impressed decoration.
Eighth Nitten Exhibition, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Ueno Park, Tokyo, October 29–December 1, 1952
Nittenshi Hensan Iinkai (Nittenshi Editorial Committee), Nittenshi 17 (History of the National Salon 17), Nitten hen 2 (The Nitten Exhibition 2), Tokyo, Nitten, 1987, pp. 356, 370 (no. 30).
Born in Kaga City, an ancient center of lacquer craft, Ikeda Kiichi studied under several local masters before showing his work at national level for the first time in 1949 at the Fifth Nitten exhibition. That piece was a relatively modest tebako (formal accessory box) but at the next three Nitten exhibitions he showed ambitious lacquer byōbu (folding screens): first, in 1950, a dramatic composition of rocks and boulders; second, in 1951, scattered logs of charcoal; and finally in 1952 the present screen with its inventive tile design. This was the last piece he would show at the Nitten. Ikeda is noted for his success in breathing new life into the venerable tradition of Kaga maki-e (lacquer ware with scattered metal powder designs made in Kaga Province [present-day Ishikawa Prefecture]), often using motifs that reflect local crafts and customs.
Dōmoto Shikken (Gosaburō)
Octagonal Incense-Burner Tray with Floral Designs
2½ x 20¼ x 20¼ in. (6.5 x 51.5 x 51.5 cm)
An octagonal kōrobon (tray for an incense burner) with vertical sides resting on eight bracket feet, the assembled wood substrate finished in polished black roiro lacquer, the interior decorated in gold and red hiramaki-e and takamaki-e lacquer with formal floral designs.
Signed in gold hiramaki-e on the base: Gosaburō saku (Made by Gosaburō).
Comes with a wood tomobako storage box, inscribed outside: Saisō hakkaku kōrobon (Octagonal incense-burner tray with floral designs); signed on the reverse of the lid: Maki-e Gosaburō saku with a seal Dōmoto.
Dōmoto Shikken made octagonal trays with floral designs over a long period of time but this piece likely dates from around the same period as another tray that he exhibited at the Tenth Nitten Exhibition in 1954, see Nittenshi Hensan Iinkai (Nittenshi Editorial Committee), Nittenshi 18 (History of the National Salon 18), Nitten hen 3 (The Nitten Exhibition 3), Shōwa 29nen–Shōwa 30nen (1954–1955), Tokyo, Nitten, 1987, p. 290, no. 245.
Tea Caddy with the First Song of Spring
ca. 1930, Japan
Maki-e gold, silver and red lacquer on wood
2 x 3½ in. (5.3 x 8.6 cm)
Comes with fitted wood tomobako storage box inscribed outside in ink Hatsune natsume (Tea Caddy with the First Song of Spring) and signed inside Shotei saku (Made by Shotei) with seal Sansho.
A hiranatsume (low caddy), the turned-wood body entirely covered on the top and sides in gold lacquer and decorated in gold, silver, and colored hiramaki-e and takamaki-e lacquer with a mass of red and white plum blossom growing on gnarled branches and twigs; the recessed base and interior finished in gold nashiji and decorated in gold hiramaki-e with stylized uguisu (Japanese bush warblers).
One of the greatest classical lacquerers of the last century, Moriya Shotei was born in Kyoto and studied from 1908 with Shirayama Shosai (1853–1923) by whom he was granted the use of the character Sho for the first syllable of his art name. He showed his work at national exhibitions from 1930 until 1942, when he was so disappointed that his submission was not awarded a prize that he concentrated in his later years mainly on private commissions for use in chanoyu (the “tea ceremony”).
Here Shotei reprises a time-honored theme, from the eleventh-century novel Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), that made its debut as a motif for maki-e decoration during the Muromachi period (1333–1573), as seen on an incense burner preserved in the Tokeiji Temple (Kanagawa Prefecture). Chapter 23 of the novel, Hatsune (The First Song of Spring), narrates Prince Genji’s New Year’s Day visit to the quarters of several of his ladies, fragrant with the scent of plum blossoms. One of the ladies sends over an artificial bird that is made the subject of an impromptu poem: Toshitsuki o / matsu ni hikarete / furuhito ni / kyō uguisu no / Hatsune kikase yo (My old eyes are caught / by pines reminding me of / passing months and years / I hope today I’ll hear the song / of spring’s first warbler).
The Hatsune chapter’s pre-eminence in the canon of Japanese lacquer art was further established by the Hatsune no chodo (‘First Warbler’ furniture), an extensive set of wedding gifts, created in the late 1630s for the wedding of the infant daughter of the third Tokugawa shogun, that is elaborately decorated with every element of the scene at Genji’s luxurious Rokujo mansion. In contrast to this classical precedent, here the lacquer artist has stripped the narrative to its visual essentials, focusing on massed red and white plum blossoms—also the subject of a world-famous pair of screens by Ogata Korin (1658–1716)—and multiple warblers, depicted in a stylized manner that recalls chidori (wave birds or plovers) as rendered in medieval Japanese lacquer. Blending traditional motifs and flawless technique, Shotei has created a masterful reinterpretation of one of Japan’s best-loved literary and artistic themes.
Shelf for Cosmetic Boxes with Design of Dragonflies and Thistles
40¼ x 38¾ x 15¼ in. (102.5 x 98.5 x 39 cm)
A kurodana (set of shelves, originally for display and storage of cosmetic boxes and toiletries) in traditional format, constructed from wood components, covered in polished black roiro lacquer, the doors and side of the cupboard decorated in colored lacquer with dragonflies and thistles; copper alloy hinges and handles.
Signed with incised characters on the right-hand door: Kazuko with a red seal Kazuko.
Taniuchi Kazuko is a contemporary woman artist working in Wajima, an important center of the traditional lacquer industry located on the north coast of the Noto Peninsula about seventy miles from the city of Kanazawa.
“A Thousand Lines” Handled Flower Basket
13½ x 7½ x 7¼ in. (34 x 19 x 18 cm)
Bamboo; hexagonal plaiting (base), free-style diagonal plaiting, bending, wrapping, knotting; striated lacquered bamboo otoshi (water container).
Signed on the base Rōkansai saku (Made by Rōkansai).
Comes with the original fitted cryptomeria-wood tomobako storage box inscribed outside Hanakago (Flower basket); inscribed and signed inside Senjō (A Thousand Lines), Rōkansai; seal: Rōkansai.
Perhaps the most creative and influential of all Japanese bamboo artists, Iizuka Rōkansai began his training in bamboo art under his father Iizuka Hōsai I at the age of 12. In his teenage years he briefly aspired to become a painter, but around the time of the family’s move from Tochigi to Tokyo in 1910 he resolved to make it his life’s mission to raise bamboo art to a higher level of creativity and refinement, immersing himself in the study of Chinese and Japanese literature, as well as calligraphy and other aspects of traditional Japanese and contemporary Western art.
Rōkansai once categorized his own practice in the same way as calligraphy or flower-arrangement, as either shin (formal), gyō (semiformal), or sō (informal). Although he excelled in all three manners, he described sō, while superficially relaxed and freestyle, as the most difficult to execute because it demands the greatest clarity of artistic vision. For this mature example of his sō plaiting style, seemingly somewhat random yet in reality meticulously controlled, Rōkansai used bamboo strips that he had leached of their coloration to give them a warm, pale natural-looking hue.
The form of the box signature, especially the handling of the character sai, suggests that this basket was likely made shortly after World War II, compare Tochigi Kenritsu Bijutsukan (Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts), Iizuka Rōkansai ten (Iizuka Rokansai: Master of Modern Bamboo Crafts), exhibition catalogue, 1989, p. 119, bottom row, second from left, datable to 1946.
ASIA WEEK NEW YORK 2024
Japanese Modern Masterpieces 1910-1950
March 14 – 22, 2024
Special Asia Week Hours: Daily, 11-5pm (otherwise by appointment)
We are pleased to present a collection of Japanese modern masterpieces from 1910 to 1950 in our gallery during Asia Week New York this year.
RECENT PAST EXHIBITION
Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes
November 9 – December 20, 2023
Thomsen Gallery is delighted to invite you to our annual autumn exhibition of Japanese lacquers dating from the early 20th century to the present. This year we are focusing on lacquer works from the modern period, 1920s—50s, including published items that were exhibited in Tokyo at the annual art exhibitions of 1933, 1952 and 1953.
We invite you to visit us and view the beautiful designs and fine details of these unique works in person.
To learn more, click here.
Thomsen gallery, located in a townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, offers important Japanese paintings and works of art to collectors and museums worldwide. The gallery specializes in Japanese screens and scrolls; in early Japanese tea ceramics from the medieval through the Edo periods; in masterpieces of ikebana bamboo baskets; and in gold lacquer objects. It further specializes in post-war ink art and Gutai art as well as contemporary art by select artists, such as the internationally renowned Japanese ceramic artist Sueharu Fukami, the paper artist Kyoko Ibe, and the lacquer artist Yoshio Okada.
The gallery is owned by Erik and Cornelia Thomsen, who live and work in New York. Erik has been a dealer in Japanese art since 1981; born to Danish parents and raised in Japan, he is fluent in Japanese and was the first foreigner to apprentice to an art dealer in Japan. They have three children, Julia, Anna, and Georg.