Tigerish images dominate Japanese art sale at Bonhams with a roaring £2m result and a world record for top lot

Fine Japanese Art
6 Nov 2012
London, New Bond Street

A fine large wood netsuke figure of a tiger carved by Naito Toyomasa (1773-1856), Tanba, early 19th century was the top item in Bonhams sale of fine Japanese Art on Tuesday November 6th in which 582 works of art achieved a sale total of £2,085,000.

The sculpture, just 4.5cm (1¾in) in height, was estimated to sell for £35,000-40,000, but made £103, 250, a new world record for Toyomasa.
His previous record was a £85,250 for a netsuke from the Szechenyi Collection.

Although the tiger is a common subject carved by other artists, this image was an unusually large and boldly carved rendition by Toyomasa. The tiger is seated with its head lowered to the left as it looks back with a ferocious expression, its tail passing forwards between the hind legs and rising at the side. The eyes are inlaid with pale translucent horn.

Suzannah Yip, Director of Japanese Art at Bonhams, commented after the sale: "This was a very strong sale in front of a packed saleroom which achieved excellent prices for ivory, netsuke, inro, and metalwork from buyers all over the world."

Second highest item in the sale at £73,250, was a wonderful image by the enigmatic print-maker Toshusai Sharaku (fl.circa 1794-1795) depicting a popular Japanese kabuki actor in one of the female roles he was famous for. The print shows the actor Segawa Tomisaburo II in the role of Yadorigi, the wife of Ogishi Kurando, in the play Hana-ayame Bunroku Soga (The Iris Soga [brothers] Story of the Bunroku Period), performed at the Miyako Theatre in May 1794, published by Tsutaya Juzaburo.

Another strong result was for a fine black lacquer four-case inro by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), of the Meiji Period. In the form of a rectangular ink-cake, carved in relief over the ishime ground on one side with the boy hero Yoko approaching a spreading pine tree and on the other with the large tiger that was terrorising his village, the boy's coat and the tiger painted gilt, signed in characteristic scratched technique. Estimated to sell for £30,000-35,000, it went for £56,450.

The subject of this inro is a reference to one of the paragons of filial piety, according to which, the fourteen-year-old Yoko accompanied his father to the mountains, where they were attacked by a tiger. Yoko managed to save his father by placing himself between him and the animal, overcoming the beast, and both survived.

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