Skip to main content

Neil Holton Japanese Art

Jar & Cover

A mixed material jar and cover.

The ebony body carved with shallow recesses framed in clouds. These recesses inlaid with stag-antler bats, a flower trailing behind. In between each of these bats are a stupa, shaped like a mochi tower inlaid in boxwood. All of this decoration is in a stylised manner. A pair of boxwood handles are in the shape of elephant busts. In addition the tongues are inlaid in stag-antler, eyes inlaid in stag-antler and ebony. The convex lid turned with graduating circles. These circles terminate at their peak with a panel, gently etched to imitate stone. Surmounting the lid is a stylised elephant finial, inlaid with a stag-antler apron and wings. Eyes inlaid in stag-antler and ebony.

Objects like these boxes represent a huge amount of man hours, thus they were certainly made for the richer patrons of the day. When we say ‘day’, we refer to that period of about 1860 to about 1890 when Japan was going through extreme change. The Edo period seclusion policy had ended and many Japanese embraced western ideas. In turn the West eager to own a piece of Japan consumed all manner of products, export Japanese art too. However during this time a district of the newly named Tokyo housed a group of artists that rebuffed the lure of churning out cheap wares for export. They were supported by a group of patrons, Japanese connoisseurs probably rich from new money from the West. What was spawned was a type of ware that is instantly recognisable irrespective of the object or device. The founder was a true master of whimsy and humour, his name was Ozaki Kokusai. Our box, not by Kokusai though bearing all the hall marks of his style, indeed his way was known as Kokusai-bori during his lifetime is by one of his gifted followers, Ichiyusai.

Ichiyusai made other examples like this, but never quite the same in shape or form twice. He was an expert pipecase maker and like his boxes, the pipecases were spectacular and rife with Asakusa flavour. Ichiyusai was an Asakusa artist through and through.

The inspiration for a great deal of Asakusa Ware derives from China. After all, China had been a cultural and scholarly heartland for Japan for centuries. Trade with these two nations existed long before the Edo period and the trading post at Deshima had a dedicated China quarter. Chinese ships visited the shores of Nagasaki far more frequently than ships of any other nations; in the year 1697, 194 visited Nagasaki for the purpose of trade. It is no surprise then that Chinese wares influenced what was produced in Japan. Our Jar and Cover is no exception, indeed one can see quite clearly how Chinese cloisonné or jade jars and covers gave a blueprint for the Japanese artisan. This blueprint mingled supremely with the Kokusai-bori way, then also add the talents of a supreme craftsman like Ichiyusai and masterpieces in containers were the result.

Signed: Ichiryusai, on a stag-antler panel on the interior of the lid.

Asakusa, Last quarter of the 19th Century.

16.8cm Wide.