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Neil Holton Japanese Art


The lack of signatures on early figure Netsuke is often a major put off for inexperienced collectors.

Ironically, as collectors become more seasoned and comfortable with their knowledge the charm of early figures becomes more apparent and the absence of signatures no longer pose an issue, in fact ‘secondary signatures’ ie. artists traits and carving habits become recognisable.

I believe it is not too much of a stretch to say, if there were less signatures found on Netsuke there would be more connoisseurship found within our field. Generally on early figures one of these ‘secondary signatures’ are far more apparent than others.

We might call this a primary ‘secondary signature’ For instance; the head and face is often the most identifiable ‘secondary signature’. However, on occasion a subject simply does not allow for the primary secondary signature to be employed. This is well demonstrated on our Ranryo dancer. The creator of this figure is a known artist, though not by name as such. A wood figure specialist nicknamed the ‘figure of eight’ as he utilises this shape for his mouths. The Ranryo Dancer mask is formed of two parts, the face covering and a jaw attached to the face by cord, which allows for flowing movement during the performance. The artist carved a number of choice wood figures, Behrens & Bushell owned archers by this hand.

Please see: The Raymond & Frances Bushell Collection. Netsuke. A Legacy at the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Page 38. The Walter Lionels Behrens Collection. Netsuke. Plate 18. Number 837. On This same page of the Behrens Collection another Ranryo by our artist is illustrated. Number 893. Another figure, the determination of the subject still remains a source of debate is illustrated in The International Netsuke Collectors Society. Volume 5. Number 2. Page 42.

Our Ranryo, captured in mid dance is carved from boxwood which over the past two hundred and fifty years has developed a fine patina. The artist probably belongs to the Edo school group of carvers, relating to Shugetsu might be a good suggestion? As a few Osaka touches are present which is where Shugetsu originated.

Wherever or indeed whoever the artist was his body of work is of an extremely high standard with an expressive and dynamic character.

Ex: Soame Jenyns Collection. 1904- 1976. Assistant curator of Oriental antiquities, British Museum. 1931 - 1967.


8.1cm High