Shibata Zeshin 柴田是真 (1807-1891), Tonkotsu (container for food scraps) with design of waves and plovers 波千鳥図蒔絵頓骨, Meiji era (1868-1912), circa 1870-1890. Estimate £12,000 – 15,000 (€15,000 – 19,000). Photo: Bonhams
With tapering sides, rounded corners, and overhanging lid, probably of wood, covered in dark-brown, almost blackseidō-nuri, with a design of chidori (see overleaf) in goldtakamaki-e and waves in red lacquer. Signed in scratched characters toward the base of one of the shorter sides Zeshin 是真 – 6.6 x 8.9 x 4.7 cm (2 5/8 x 3½ x 1 7/8 in.). With fitted wooden tomobako storage box inscribed Zeshin-ō saku nami ni chidori maki-e tonkotsu Kakan’an Chikushin kan narabi ni dai 是真翁作 波に千鳥蒔絵頓骨 可寛菴竹真鑒並題 (Tonkotsu with waves and plovers in maki-e by the venerable Zeshin, certified and inscribed by Kakan’an Chikushin), with seal Yūsai 有斎, and open-weave silk bag with a tying cord and lacquered netsuke in the form of a covered jar.
Provenance: Hirano Family, Hyakuraku-an Collection
Exhibited and published: Nezu Bijutsukan 2012, cat. no. 31
Published: Hirano 1998, cat. no. 56
Notes: Seasoned collectors of Japanese art may be surprised to see the word tonkotsu described as a ‘container for food scraps’, but as leading authority on lacquer Takao Yō explains in his catalogue entry for the Nezu Museum, tonkotsu, although normally translated as ‘tobacco box’, is written in the box inscription for this piece with characters that mean ‘discard’ and ‘bone’. A container like this would thus, like the zansaisage (see lot 5), have been used to hold fish bones and other inedible scraps to avoid the faux pas of leaving them on one’s plate. The design motif of waves and chidori, variously translated as ‘dotterels’, ‘wave-birds’, or ‘plovers’, has been used in Japanese lacquer for around a millennium and owes its origin to the poetic idea of small birds being formed from the spray of ocean waves; ever the innovator, Zeshin shows many of the birds on the ground rather than in flight. The waves were painted by hand in wet lacquer, an even more laborious method than Zeshin’s trademark combed seigaiha technique.
Shōji Chikushin (18541936), whose gō or art name was Kakan’an, was a leading pupil of Zeshin who often signed boxes authenticating his work.
Bonhams. THE MISUMI COLLECTION OF IMPORTANT WORKS OF LACQUER ART AND PAINTINGS, Part I – 5 Nov 2014 14:00 GMT – LONDON, NEW BOND STREET