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Antiques PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Bonhams Fine Japanese Art Sale Nov 5

The centrepiece of the sale will undoubtedly be the magnificent group of Kakiemon beauties which graces the front cover of the fine Japanese catalogue, going under the auctioneer’s hammer at Bonhams New Bond Street on the 5th November. Products of a bygone era of Japan’s feudal past, they were exported to the West to decorate the grand interiors of European palaces, reflecting the increasingly fashionable and sophisticated style of European Chinoiserie during the 18th and 19th century.

KakiemonEstimated from £20,000-£70,000, these three figures are representations of the beautiful women (bijin) theme that was a staple of Japanese ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints. They wear clothing and a hairstyle prevalent in Japan during the Kanbun era (1661-1673), when such coiffure and gorgeously-patterned robes were popular among high ranking courtesans – the fashion avant-garde of the time.

Although rare and elegant Kakiemon standing ladies are known in major museum collections, the two examples presented in this sale are set apart by their arresting, painterly designs, whilst the unusual French ormolu-mounted seated beauty is a supreme example of its type. The distinctive features of the karashishi design on both the left and right side of the ormolu mount epitomise French Chinoiserie. Mounts of this type were often used in Europe to increase the dramatic quality of Chinese and Japanese porcelains i.e. attesting to the European tastes of aristocrats and wealthy bourgeois and the esteem in which these wares were held.

A shortlisted entry for the 12th Annual Asian Art in London award for the best three-dimensional work of art, the seated bijin is akin to a very similar, un-mounted seated figure in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

All three figures come with impeccable provenance. They are by descent from a distinguished European Noble Family and have remained in the same collection for over a hundred years, acquired originally by the owners’ great-great-grandfather; a notable ambassador to the Far East in the mid 19th century.

Other highlights in the sale are represented in the cloisonné enamel section. Japanese Art was internationally influential by the turn of the twentienth century and cloisonné produced in Japan was at the vanguard of this trend. Traditionally, cloisonné, (shippo-yaki – in Japanese), was used to embellish small pieces, such as sword fittings and was largely considered a Chinese Art form. However, from the 1830’s onwards the Japanese developed a technical and aesthetic mastery that was to both heighten the visual appeal of their creations and permanently intertwine Japan and fine cloisonné enamel pieces into the minds of the Eastern and Western connoisseur.

The late Meiji and Taisho periods witnessed some of the most impressive examples of cloisonné produced to date. The full size model of a go-ban by Honda Kozaburo of Nagoya is such an example. It is hitherto unrecorded and would therefore strongly suggest that it was a piece commissioned by a wealthy patron or that it was made for International Exhibition entry in the early 20th century.

Go – the preferred game of Ancient Japan’s nobles and monks and today’s intellectuals – is widely considered to be the world’s greatest strategic skill game, far surpassing Chess in its complexity and scope. The mathematical elegance of the rules is complemented by the great beauty of the board, especially in Japan where it has been elevated to a pinnacle of aesthetic beauty. In the West, it is the best known Japanese board game and has featured in a number of books and films, most recently Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind.

An outstanding example of its kind, the game board is equally remarkable for its size, weight, material, extraordinary workmanship and fine condition and will exceed its modest estimates of £25,000-35,000. It is also extremely rare to find an extant signed piece by the artist whose works are as highly sought after today, as they were during his lifetime.

Also embedded among the cloisonné gems is a brightly-coloured, rare and meticulously crafted gosho-guruma (ox-drawn carriage) attributed to Kawaguchi Bunzaemon of Nagoya which is expected to reach a very significant £25,000-30,000. The only other known example of such a piece is in the Imperial Collection in Japan.

All these outstanding examples of craftsmanship demonstrate the breathtaking standard of technical and aesthetic expertise that typifies so much of Japanese art, and moreover, all that can be had for what represents relatively little outlay.

Suzannah Yip, Head of Bonhams Fine Japanese Art Department comments: “We are delighted to present such a broad spectrum – from the classical to modern – of fine quality Japanese art, as part of Asia Week in London. Never before in a Bonhams’ fine Japanese sale have the perspicacious collector been so spoilt for choice.”