Friday, August 12, 2011

Found Treasure!

Discovering Meiji-era Japanese Cloisonne

Greg's prize "lives" in his crystal cabinet.
During my recent visit to San Francisco, I met an enthusiastic collector of beautiful and interesting things, named Greg.

A true collector-personality, he takes pride in learning as much as he can about the items he finds in flea markets, antique stores, or even in the neighborhood trash (our first conversation was about wooden knitting needles he had found discarded).

The pride of his collection is what looks at first like a small brownish jar with a lid, which he normally keeps in a glass case with his cut crystal.

It doesn't really look like much, from a distance.  Look at it closely in good light, however, and you'll discover it is a jewel.

Greg believes it is a piece of Meiji-era Japanese cloisonne (sorry this blog interface won't let me put in the accent mark). He thinks it may be the work of Namikawa Yasuyuki, a samurai-turned-artisan who worked in Kyoto with a German chemist, Gottfried Von Wagner (or Wagener), to create some amazing innovations.
The lid is covered with tiny, incredibly detailed designs.
Maddeningly, there are a few differences from Yasuyuki's most frequent approaches (the finial on this lid is enameled, but most of the Yasuyuki work displayed online has a metal finial, for instance), and the piece is not signed. The craftsmanship and many details, however, seem to echo the confirmed Yasuyuki works. No matter who made it, the piece is stunning.
Here's a look at what's inside.
I gave my macro lens quite a workout, photographing it--with Greg's permission, of course! If anyone reading this post can help identify it, please contact me!
The shoulders of the jar are intricately detailed.
The larger panels on the lower part of the jar portray the traditional images of the "Dragon and Phoenix." There are two dragons, and two phoenixes, with intricate designs between them. The next three photos show details of these areas.
Here's one of the dragons.
Here's one of the phoenixes. Can you believe this detail?
Here is a look at the foliate design between phoenix and dragon.

Some expert-verified Namikawa Yasuyuki pieces: 
I found these online. A web search on "Meiji Cloisonne" yields a rich trove of utterly wonderful pieces. If you have time, I urge you to go "web surfing," and see for yourself!
Three lidded vases, 1880-1890, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Two lidded jars, from the Ginkgo Telegraph website.
Below are two images from the "I.D. Cloisonne" website (on that site you must scroll down, for the Yasuyuki pieces):
The dotted border and other details are similar to Greg's jar.
Full-length view of the piece in the detail above. It is dated 1890-1910.
The piece above shows a distinctive black color that Yasuyuki and Von Wagner perfected. 

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum's site, Yasuyuki was appointed Imperial Craftsman to the court of the Emperor Meiji in 1896. Also according to this site, his early work shows more traditional designs and stylized geometric or botanical motifs, but the later work became much more pictorial. This makes me think that if Greg's jar really is a Yasuyuki, it dates from earlier in his career.

     The photos of Greg's jar at the start of this post were all taken by me, with my Canon PowerShot SX110 IS on a macro setting. They are copyright 2011 by Jan Sherrell Gephardt, and are available under a Creative Commons license that allows use with credit given.  Greg's jar was photographed, and the photos were posted on this blog, with his knowledge and gracious permission.
     As noted in their captions, the three lidded vases are from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the two lidded jars are from the Ginkgo Telegraph site, and the two views of the black vase are from the I.D. Cloisonne site.

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