London – An important lacquer panel by Shibata Zeshin leads and aptly illustrates the theme and title of Bonhams Polish and Poise: Japanese Art Through The Centuries sale at New Bond Street on 12 May. With a highly polished black-lacquer roiro surface worked in high relief gold, silver and black takamaki-e and hiramaki-e, the winter night scene is an unusual example of a work on panel by the renowned artist. It has an estimate of £100,000-£150,000.
Shibata Zeshin (1807-91) was a Japanese lacquerer, painter and print-maker of the late Edo period and early Meiji era, praised as ‘Japan’s greatest lacquerer’. While the subjects of Zeshin’s works remained traditional, he was known for his experimentation with media, mixing his lacquers with a variety of substances to achieve different colours and textures, and to control their consistency and flexibility. The present work is a superlative example of some of Zeshin’s most idiosyncratic techniques and includes materials such as gold and silver sabiage made from a mixture of raw lacquer with grindstone powder and crushed charcoal.
The sale also features important prints by artists of the Edo period. These include an oban print by Eishosai Choki (active circa 1772-early 1800s) depicting a summer evening with a mother and child holding fans as they hunt for fireflies along the bank of a pond. One of only a few fine impressions that remain, the present lot was previously in the collection of Henri Vever, one of the pre-eminent jewellers of the 20th Century. It has an estimate of £60,000-£80,000. Another print of the Edo period, by Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770), was also in Vever’s collection as well as that of the Japanese art dealer and tastemaker Hayashi Tadamasa (1853-1906). The chuban tate-e woodblock depicts a geisha climbing the stairway to the upper storey of a house. It has an estimate of £15,000-£20,000. A pair of kakejiku (vertical hanging scrolls), depicting Daikoku and Otafuku watching three rats enact an amusing New Year performance, have an estimate of £6,000-£8,000.
Highlights of the cloisonné-enamels to be offered include a fine pair of cloisonné-enamel musen and moriage presentation vases of the Meiji era (1868-1912) by the Ando Jubei Company. Each vase decorated partly in relief and finely worked in musen and yusen enamels with a complementary design, they were created after a design by Watanabe Seitei, one of the first Nihonga (Japanese-style) painters to visit Europe, attending the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris. They have an estimate of £25,000-£30,000. A fine and rare cloisonné-enamel, plique-à-jour lamp of the Meiji era is also featured, the detachable shade decorated with spider chrysanthemums and other autumnal blossoms intricately worked in silver wire on a frosted jade-green ground. It has an estimate of £10,000-£15,000.
Suzannah Yip, Director of Japanese Art, commented: “This sale is a testament to the fantastic skill of some of the greatest periods of Japanese art, and features a breadth of beautiful objects which capture the elegance of a unique time in Japan’s history. The remarkable lacquer panel which leads the sale is a stunning example of Zeshin’s style and material experimentation, and we anticipate much excitement from collectors.”
Other highlights of the sale include:
• Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Junishi, 12 Animals of the East Asian Zodiac, album of lacquer paintings. Estimate: £25,000-£30,000
• Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), Night Revellers, woodblock print. Estimate: £12,000-£18,000
• Nihashi Yoshihira (1896-1977), Inlaid Mixed-Metal Rectangular Accessory Box and Cover. Estimate: £6,000-£8,000
• Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), Ebisu and Daikoku at New Year, pair of hanging scroll paintings. Estimate: £6,000-£8,000