Edo, Meiji and Momoyama Period Works Star at Bonhams Fine Japanese Art Sale

A rare and highly unusual ink painting by Zen-Buddhist master, Hakuin Ekaku, is a highlight of Bonhams Fine Japanese Art sale on 16 May, at its New Bond Street saleroom. This Edo period kakejiku (a vertical hanging scroll) depicts two deities, a 16-year old Otafuku and the pot-bellied, kiseru-smoking priest Hotei, both of whom are key symbols of Hakuin's personal philosophy concerning the path to Zen enlightenment. The scroll is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Hakuin (1686-1769) was primarily a philosopher, spending his whole life studying, training and travelling the length of Japan, to experience the breadth of monasterial life on an island then divided under the rules of 300 regional daimyō. He only began to record his philosophies pictorially much later in his life, making his artistic output intuitively thought-out, and now highly sought after. He intended these as 'visual sermons', a means of diffusing his Zen teachings through a largely illiterate population.

Bonhams Head of Japanese Art, Suzannah Yip, said "Hakuin's lengthy religious and philosophical development by the time he came to painting, lends a very assured touch to his work. He often included personal trademarks, as in this work, for example, where Otafuku's kimono is decorated with the emblem of a Shinto deity, Kitano Tenjin, held dear by Hakuin since his youth. Hakuin was also a heavy smoker – we can be sure he owned a kiseru pipe just like Hotei's!"

Hakuin was one of the eight artists whose work recently featured in a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, "Lineage of Eccentrics: The Miraculous World of Edo Painting". Centered around the book, Lineage of Eccentrics (1970), by art historian Nobuo Tsuji, the exhibition showcased how Edo period painting challenged all conventions through its bizarre, often surreal, imagery, drawing its audience into many fantastical worlds.

The sale also features an extraordinary Nanban cabinet, dated to the late 16th/early 17th century Momoyama period, with an estimate of £120,000-150,000. Its bold animal, floral and geometric designs are embellished with gold hiramaki-e lacquer and shell, and the door opens down to reveal 19 compartments, all decorated with the same intensity and precision.

Nanban cabinets were originally made in Kyoto for the ruling elite, but when trading routes opened up to Europe via the Portuguese, the global interest in artefacts such as these put Japan on the map for the first time. It was the Japanese lavish use of gold lacquer that most caught the world's eye, which stemmed from the imperial splendour of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598). Hideyoshi brought Japan very close to unified rule, ending the period of the Warring Lords, and dictated how the world saw Japan through their exports of fine, golden-lacquered goods – as evidenced by this splendid cabinet.

Another highlight is an exquisite bronze hanaike, or flower vase, in the form of a gourd, encircled with leaves, tendrils, and a snake intensely eyeing up a tree frog. Bearing the signature of Shoami Katsuyoshi (1832-1908), one of the greatest metalworkers of the Meiji era, this work carries an estimate of £100,000-150,000.

Despite his provincial roots, Katsuyoshi exhibited at art fairs worldwide and garnered no fewer than 28 awards. His works have found homes in many important collections, including those of Kyoto's Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum and the British Museum.

Suzannah Yip further commented, "We are very proud of the quality of artefacts in our sale, demonstrating the continued genius of Japanese design over the centuries. I am confident they will resonate with collectors worldwide."


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