Set of Sakazuki with Stand
Maki-e gold lacquer, black and red lacquer on wood
10½ x 8¼ x 8¼ in. (27 x 21 x 21 cm)
Set of three sakazuki sake cups boldly decorated with respectively five, six and seven flying cranes, minute details in on a gold dust on red togidashi ground, the stand decorated with stylized old pine trees and pine seedlings, clounds in takamakie and kirigane inlaid gold foil on a gold dust togidashi ground, comes with the original fitted tomobako box, signed on the inside Hyouami zo, made by Hyouami of the Kyoto Hyou school.
Shōgyokusai (active Meiji era)
Tea Caddy with Chrysanthemums
Maki-e gold lacquer on wood
2¾ x 2¾ x 2¾ in. (7.3 x 7.3 x 7.3 cm)
Natsume (tea caddy), the turned-wood body decorated in varied colors of gold hiramaki-e and takamaki-e on a black lacquer ground with a dense design of chrysanthemum blossoms, the interior decorated in sprinkled gold flakes on a denser gold hirame ground. Signed in gold hiramaki-e on the base Shōgyokusai
This artist worked for a branch of the Matsudaira family, one of Japan’s most prominent aristocratic clans, a fact attested by inscriptions on some of his works. An inrō (interlocking medicine case) with his signature is in the Baur Collections, Geneva.
Hirobuta Tray with Accouterments of the Bugaku Dance
Maki-e lacquer and inlaid shell, silver rim
3 x 24¾ x 16¾ in. (7.7 x 62.8 x 42.5 cm)
A hirobuta (tray with vertical sides), rectangular with slightly bowed sides, the wood substrate finished in highly polished mirror-black roiro lacquer and decorated in gold and aokin hiramaki-e and raised takamaki-e, with inlays of shell as well as gold and silver okibirame flakes with accouterments of the bugaku dance: shō (mouth organ), torikabuto (cap), and kagura-suzu (set of hand bells); finished with a solid silver rim.
Over a lustrous polished black-lacquer ground, the artist who decorated this tray sprinkled different mixtures of gold and silver powder to create a meticulous, semi-abstract design featuring headgear and musical instruments used in bugaku (nowadays generally referred to as gagaku), a performance art of Chinese origin that was adopted by the Japanese imperial court and is today the world’s oldest surviving court dance and music tradition. The largest element is the torikabuto (literally, “bird helmet”), one of several types of headgear worn by bugaku dancers. Beneath it, partially concealed, is a shō, a vertical mouth organ or panpipes with 17 bamboo pipes (two of them silent) set in a cup-shaped wind chest (seen here at the top) with a single metal mouthpiece. The protracted notes of the shō contribute to the archaic-sounding, timeless character of bugaku music, but slightly faster-tempo pieces are sometimes accompanied by the contrasting notes of the kagura-suzu, a set of 12 bells (one here partially hidden) arranged in three tiers and suspended by brass wires from a central handle.
Rectangular trays like this one, with relatively high sides, are known in Japanese as hirobuta and were used to present formal gifts of clothes and precious items; the outstanding technical quality, the choice of an imperial theme for the decoration, and the fact that it is unsigned together suggest that this example was likely intended for use by a member of the imperial family or as an imperial gift.
Octagonal Jewel Box with Peach Blossom and Butterflies
Maki-e lacquer with shell inlays
4¼ x 6 in. (10.7 x 15.2 cm)
Signed on the base with gold hiramaki-e characters Jiho saku (Made by Jiho)
Comes with fitted wood tomobako storage box inscribed outside in ink Tokamon Hosekibako (Jewel box with peach blossom) and signed and sealed inside Jiho
An octagonal box with overhanging cover and interior tray, the wood substrate constructed using sashimono (joinery) techniques, the top and sides with a textured ishime (stonelike) black finish, the top with a single stylized multilayered flower motif executed in shell inlay, gold hiramaki-e lacquer, and other techniques, the sides with numerous stylized butterflies in gold hiramaki-e; the interior and base finished in mottled red lacquer, the interior with leaf and floral motifs in gold and silver hiramaki-e
The maker of this box, Mitamura Jiho, was the leading pupil of Akatsuka Jitoku (1871–1936), one of the outstanding lacquer artists of the early twentieth century. Jiho participated seventeen times in the government-sponsored Teiten national exhibition and its successor iterations for nearly three decades until 1956, but only once showed another piece titled Hosekibako (Jewel Box). That was in 1928 (his very first Teiten, the year after bijutsu kogei [art crafts] were included the exhibition for the first time), when Jiho submitted a hexagonal box that, like this one, was decorated with an elaborate flower on the cover and butterfly motifs on the sides. Although we have so far only been able to locate a small black-and-white photograph of the 1928 box, the present example is so similar that we feel confident in dating it too to the late 1920s. In both cases the main flower decoration is of Buddhist inspiration; this one in particular seeming to echo the hosoge (“treasure flower”) motif, of Chinese origin, often seen in early Japanese Buddhist art.
This masterful box combines technical virtuosity—reflecting the artist’s training under Akatsuka Jitoku (who was among other things a master of shell inlay)—with several influences and trends including the textured lacquer finishes pioneered by Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) and his followers, along with a renewed interest in early Japanese decorative arts, including lacquer, stimulated by increasing exhibition and publication of temple and shrine treasures that had previously been largely closed to public view.
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 jūtebako (tiered accessory box) comprising 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 silver rims; the decoration executed in multi-colored lacquer, the surface divided on each side into 49 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 black lacquer sprinkled with gold and silver hirame flakes; the suzuribako fitted with fude-oki (brush tray), suzuri (ink-grinding stone), and metal suiteki (water dropper) in the form of a tea kettle with a swing handle.
Comes with the original fitted wooden tomobako box inscribed outside U to uo jūtebako 鵜ト魚 重手箱(Tiered accessory box with cormorant and fish); dated and signed inside Shōwa mizunoto-tori jūgatsu Sekkō (Sekkō, October 1933), 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
Maki-e gold and colored lacquer on wood
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.
Active Showa era
Lacquer Folding Screen with Tiles
Colored lacquer on wood
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.
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.