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Neil Holton Japanese Art


A large wood figure of a peasant.

Wearing the uniform of a field worker, a scarf wraps the head and the side of the face, then tied at the chin. Trousers cover the legs to the knee, the calf unclothed and the feet bare. The clothing is an array of creases and folds, which in general gives an impression the garments are too large for the wearer. The peasant grips in the right hand the top of a pouch, which is drooping with the weight of the contents, the left hand cups the pouch. The face of the peasant is that of a toothless, wrinkled elder, their sight diminished and cheeks sagging. The piece has a melancholy atmosphere, like a covered near-skeletal figure, worked to the bone. I suspect this poor figure is to be pitied more than ridiculed.

The Meiji period was a time of change for everyone. Adapting to this change, the Art and Craft producers faced a do or die scenario. The situation they faced had one promising factor though. Japan had been all but closed for over two centuries. This isolation intrigued the rest of the world, and everyone outside Japan, who could afford a piece of Japan, wanted a piece. Within Netsuke-Art the demand the Western collector put on the Japanese Netsuke-shi altered the intrinsic nature of the art, which in turn spawned the export market. Netsuke made by the Japanese for the Japanese essentially vanished during the Meiji and Taisho periods. Exceptions to this did exist, though inevitably the unstable environment caused by Economic and Political upheaval appeared in the Netsuke artists work.

Our Netsuke displays a moment in the life of a peasant, all of the troubles and strife faced by this class chronicled by the carvers knife. In 1871, the Japanese government issued the Yen. The previous coinage was allowed to still circulate which caused enormous confusion, particularly among the semi-literate peasant population. The unscrupulous could take advantage of the peasants naivety, who were moneyed with silver coinage, a material which was valued on the other side of the world for its weight well in excess of its monetary value in the land of the rising sun. Our peasant, holding a heavy money pouch, should have a Netsuke attached to secure at the hip, alas it is missing.

Kokeisai Sansho, born 1871 is noted as the last major artist of the Osaka school. Apprenticed to Dosho, who died in 1884 means his apprenticeship was short lived, but also means Sansho’s childhood was shorter, child labour being indicative of the time. The Sansho style is recognisable, this has been noted on many occasions. It was suggested that there were two artists by this name, Mr Bushell believed this theory came to be, due to the use by a single Sansho of two differing Kakihan. Also Sansho appears to have left behind a major anonymous body of work, without reason to what was or was not signed. What is for certain quality was not a deciding factor when determining what should be signed. One artist though, active at the same time as Sansho in Osaka who is virtually unknown was Chikko. Mr Bushell includes a single work by him in Collectors Netsuke. Page 164. Number 305. A Shishimai Dancer. He retains this Netsuke and donated it to LACMA. Illustrated in Netsuke, A legacy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Number 596. Sansho carved a near identical version though surmounts the dancer on a drum. Illustrated in Netsuke Kenkyukai. Volume 8. Number 3. Fall 1998. Page 11. The Chikko is superior. We would propose Mr Bushell owned another Chikko, a marvellous Ryujin illustrated in the aforementioned LACMA publication. Number 518. We were lucky enough to own an Okimono by Chikko. A regal Daruma, with boxwood face, glass eyes and his robes treated with negoro lacquer technique. A relative of our Daruma okimono was made by Sansho. Illustrated: In a Nutshell. Japanese Netsuke from European Collections. By Rosemary Bandini. Page 36. A work always attributed to Sansho is a pair of lovers. Illustrated: Netsuke Classics. Barry Davies Oriental Art. Number 44. This may well be a Sansho. Another example illustrated: To Japan because of Netsuke. by Alain Ducros. 2010. Page 14. Observe the slick hairdo on the female, the flamboyant dress patterns and compare to the Chikko Shishimai dancer mentioned above. Ueda Reikichi states in The Netsuke Handbook, that Chikko carved tirelessly, which appears to frustrate Mr Bushell as he’d only ever seen one example of his work. What we believe is Chikko did carve tirelessly. He carved in a Sansho-esque manner, though for whatever reason in failing to endorse his work with his own chomei, it has resulted in a major anonymous body of Chikko’s work being attributed to the hand of Sansho. This is understandable, the two exhibit a connection in their work, are active at the same time and in the same place. There are enough differences between the two artists work though that we hope in the future some credit will be appointed to Chikko rather than opting for the more commercial Sansho.

9.3cm High.

Guide Price - £3,500