collecting, cloisonne, v&a
Kettle (ewer), Nagoya. Museum no. 894-1969
Kettle, or ewer
Height (including handle) 15.2cm
Museum no. 894-1869
From the outset the V&A has collected objects from many different cultures and the first acquisition of Japanese cloisonné enamels came from the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867. These are thought to be the earliest documented examples of Japanese cloisonné enamels in the West. Included in this initial purchase was this elegant vessel, having been bought for the not insignificant sum of £24.00. It must date from around 1860 and the wire-work and enamelling are clearly of the finest quality and compare very favourably with other cloisonné objects of the period. The dull blue enamel ground has fine brass (or gold) wires delineating a design of scrolling Chinese Grass (Japanese: karakusa), geometric, lucky Seven Treasures (Japanese: shippō) and floral motifs in a limited range of polychrome enamels.
Tiered food box, Nagoya c.1860. Museum no. 895-1869
Tiered food box (Japanese: jūbako)
Museum no. 895-1869
This vessel was also purchased at the Paris International Exposition of 1867 for the extremely high price of £60.00. The type, style, and application of the enamels all have many similar features to another early cloisonné vessel in the Museum's collection although the decoration here is in more regular patterns. The workmanship of this piece, however, is more extensive and all of the bases of the tiers are enamelled with Chinese Grass (Japanese: karakusa) scrolls and fans; the lower base of this food box has an applied mosaic-like Japanese character for 'Good Luck' in coloured enamels. The top of the lid has a scene of cranes and pines, both symbols of longevity, on the legendary mountain-island Horai, a place of eternal youth and immortality.
Both this and the former piece are recorded as purchased from 'The Tycoon's Government' and described as 'antique Japanese'. The 'Tycoon's government' was the Tokugawa shogunate in its final days of power and the vessels were either contemporary, or had been made within the previous ten years. They represent some of the earliest examples of larger-scale cloisonné made in Japan since the renaissance of the craft by Kaji Tsunekichi. Both pieces are characterised by dull enamels on a blue ground and by the use of large numbers of background wires. We do not know who made them, but they are likely to have been produced in Nagoya, possibly even by Kaji.
Dish, unsigned, Nagoya c. 1865-1870. Museum no. 326-1872
Museum no. 326-1872
In 1872 and 1875 the Museum purchased two dishes; this first dish cost £50 from a Berlin-based dealer. It is decorated in brass wires on a ground of stylised floral and geometrical motifs with the main design consisting of two dragons fighting for the sacred Buddhist pearl of wisdom. The underside of the dish has panels of birds against a similar ground. Although unsigned, the cloisonné artist Ando Jubei, on the occasion of his visit to the V&A in 1910, declared that the piece had been made by Kaji Sataro, son of Kaji Tsunekichi, the man responsible for the renaissance of cloisonné making in Japan around 1840. The dish certainly bears all the characteristics of having been made around that period, and may explain its relatively high cost.
Dish, Nagoya. Museum no. 595-1875
Museum no. 595-1875
In 1875 the Museum purchased this, the second of two dishes, for £3.8s.6d from the London-based East and West India Dock Company. Apart from their relative sizes, it is difficult to explain the disparity in the prices paid for this and the previous dish - though it is interesting to note that when Ando Jubei visited the V&A in 1910 he pronounced the former to have been made by Kaji Sataro, son of Kaji Tsunekichi. The dish is decorated with a central roundel of a butterfly and flowers, perhaps dandelion (Japanese: tampopo), contained within another roundel. The surface of the dish is divided into panels containing floral motifs with finely applied wires delineating abstract cloud motifs. These small conventional shapes help contain the enamels during the firing process.
Incense burner, Japan, c.1865-1870. Museum no. 1121-1875
Incense burner (Japanese: korō) or firebox (Japanese: hibachi)
Overall height 27.9cm
Museum no. 1121-1875
The next major acquisition of cloisonné enamels were in a collection of '27 pieces of Japanese stoneware, enamels etc.' purchased from Siegfried Bing, the Paris-based dealer and entrepreneur. 1,800 francs was paid for this unusual item, which is either a hibachi (brazier) or a korō (incense burner).
While the rims (Japanese: fukurin) of dark silver and the ivory knobs in the shape of lion-dogs (Japanese: shishi) are clearly Japanese, the wiring, enamelling and style of decoration are problematic. The twisted silver wire together with the bat and cloud motifs which are proud of the surface of the vessel all show a strong Korean influence. The pale shiny blue ground and the exotic, or mythical phoenix-like bird, perhaps of the type known in Japanese as a Ho-o, clearly show Chinese influence. Many pieces acquired from Bing present similar problems. On balance, it might be safe to say that this object could represent a fusion of ideas and techniques in the early stages of the development of cloisonné enamels in Japan.
Pair of vases, attrib. Namikawa Yasuyuki. Museum no. 360-1880
Pair of vases
Unsigned (attrib. Namikawa Yasuyuki)
Museum no. 360-1880
Purchased from Christopher Dresser's company, Londos & Co.
In 1880, the V&A acquired several items from Christopher Dresser's company, Londos & Co. including these two small unsigned vases, which may be early examples of the work of Namikawa Yasuyuki. That they might be of Kyoto origin was first suggested by Hayashi Tadamasa (1853-1906) when he visited the V&A in 1886 to assess the Japanese collections. Hayashi had studied at what is now Tokyo University and served as an interpreter at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878; he stayed on in Europe and became a significant advisor and dealer in Japanese art.
The vases have a transparent brown enamel ground almost totally covered with a brass wire decoration of stylised clouds, Japanese cranes, chrysanthemums and pine-boughs. The cranes and pines are both symbols of longevity. The rims and foot-rings are of gilded copper.
Lidded vase, Namikawa Yasuyuki. Museum no. 266-1903
Museum no. 266-1903.
In 1903, the V&A acquired as part of a gift from the London-based dealer, John Sparkes, its first signed piece by Namikawa Yasuyuki. The mirror-black enamel ground is decorated in silver wires with flowers, including peony and iris by a stream, two flying ducks and a butterfly. The area above the base plate, below the rim and the lid are decorated with bands of the lucky Seven-Treasure (Japanese: shippō) motif. Although the interior of the foot carries a silver plaque with the well-executed signature of Namikawa Yasuyuki, the design and execution of the ducks are more reminiscent of the work of another cloisonné maker, Shibata, who worked in Kyoto around the same time as Yasuyuki.
Bowl, unsigned, Nagoya c. 1865-1870. Museum no. 680-1901
Height 8.8cm x diameter 19.1cm
Museum no. 680-1901
Purchased from the sale of the Bowes collection.
The bowl shows all the indicators of an early example of Japanese cloisonné enamels with its heavily applied semi-matt enamels and thick brass wire. The decoration is of four Chinese philosophers (one is just visible) and, in the interior, a dragon all on a ground of stylised clouds and abstract floral motifs. Curiously, the interior of the bowl is very rough and appears to have been only partially polished.
It is fitting that the V&A should have acquired 'Bowes Collection, Enamels No.1'. James Lord Bowes (1834-1899) had acquired a large collection of Japanese art, including numerous pieces of cloisonné enamels, and was among the earliest of collectors in the West to write in detail on this subject. He had extremely adamant views about the history and development of Japanese cloisonné, almost all of which were totally wrong. He classified Japanese enamels into groups which, under his scheme, placed many objects in the eighteenth, or even seventeenth centuries. While his views were criticised by many of his contemporaries for being totally out of keeping with what was already known at the time, many of his ideas persisted right up to the late twentieth century. This bowl is illustrated in Bowes, Japanese Enamels, p.41, Plate V.
Pair of vases, unsigned (attrib. Namikawa Yasuyuki). Museum no. 1274-1886
Pair of vases
Unsigned (attrib. Namikawa Yasuyuki)
Museum no. 1274-1886
Another example of interesting Nagoya enamels, part of the bequest of Frank Dixon. These two small vases are stylistically very similar to another pair in the V&A's collection. However, in comparison with that pair, here the tight overall application of the brass wires and the polychrome enamel colour scheme perhaps show further some technological advances and the surface of the vases is here more regularly covered with wires. The area below the rim and above the base-plate are both elegantly decorated with stylised chrysanthemum. The black enamel and the butterflies found on the central band of the vases were both later to be key features of the work of Namikawa Yasuyuki.
Unsigned vase, Nagoya c.1870-1880. Museum no. 1271-1886
Museum no. 1271-1886
In 1886 the V&A received the bequest of Frank Dixon which included several interesting examples of Nagoya enamels - little is known of the donor of these pieces, all of which could have been made not long before their acquisition. This is one of a pair of very large vases each with three panels depicting different scenes. The scene shown on the central panel of this vase closely resembles the type of image which would have been found on Japanese prints of the period. Two people are seen washing giant radishes (Japanese: daikon) in a river by a rustic cottage. The borders of the panel form a large abstract lucky Seven Treasures (Japanese: shippō) motif and the whole vase is completely covered with abstract geometric and floral patterns as well as large butterflies and the mythical phoenix-like Hō-ō bird.
Lidded vase, unsigned, Nagoya, c.1890. Museum no. 614-1894
Height 21.6 cm
Museum no. 614-1894
By the 1890s the V&A was much more aware of the dates and names of cloisonné makers, though attributions on some examples of Japanese art would continue to be vague and mistakes were often made. This rather elegant unsigned covered vase was described as beign the work of 'Nami-Kawa of Kioto' [sic] when in fact it was far more probably made in Nagoya. The vase is decorated with dragons, stylized mythical killer whales (shachi), a creature long associated with Nagoya, and stylised Hō-ō (phoenix).
Dish by Seizaburo Goto of Honcho-dori, Yokohama, Museum no. 237-1881
Unsigned (attrib. Seizaburo Goto of Honcho-dori)
Museum no. 237-1881
The first acquisition by an identified maker of Japanese cloisonné enamel is this small dish acquired in 1881. From the style of decoration at first sight this object might well be described as Nagoya work, but V&A records state that this dish (purchased from Okura & Co. of Fenchurch Street London for the sum of £11.5s.0d) was made in Yokohama.
The wires are all brass and the central panel with a black ground depicts a samurai in full armour, with sword, bow and war-fan, seated on a tiger-skin. The armour is of the medieval type which was briefly revived for ceremonial use in the early nineteenth century. The warrior is surrounded by panels of geometric diaper patterns in polychrome enamels. The back of the dish has a rich blue ground decorated with brass wire scrolls and stylised flowers. The inner foot is decorated with three butterflies in Nagoya-style polychrome enamels. The rim and foot ring are both of gilded copper.
Vase, attrib. Andō Jūbei. Museum no. 265-1903
Unsigned (attrib. Ando Jubei)
Museum no. 265-1903
In 1903 the V&A acquired as part of a gift from the London-based dealer, John Sparkes, this unsigned vase. The elegant silver wire decoration of wisteria emerges from stylised clouds on the shoulder of the vase. The rim (Japanese: fukurin) and foot-ring are of the blue-black copper/gold alloy known as shakudō: the inner neck of the vase is of gilded copper. The careful placement of the design makes particular use of large areas of pure enamels which, by this time, the cloisonné manufacturers of Japan were confident in using to complement finely detailed decoration.
This vase was recognised as one of his own works by the Nagoya-based cloisonné artist Andō Jūbei on the occasion of his visit to the V&A in 1910. Andō's visit to the V&A took place at the time of the Japan British Exhibition at White City, where the Andō Company had a stand.
Lidded vessel, Nagoya c.1870-1880. Museum no. M.382-1911
Height 19.4cm x max. width 22.3cm
Museum no. M.382-1911.
This vessel, described in the V&A's original register entry as a 'water-vessel' (Japanese: mizusashi) was the only piece of cloisonné the Museum acquired from a collection of eleven objects offered by Andō Jubei at the time of the 1910 Japan-British exhibition in London. The original notes in the acquisition correspondence attributing it the 'Taiko period' were later amended to date it to 1860, but it is more likely to be of slightly later manufacture. The eight sides appear to have been separately made then assembled and enamelled. The thick brass wire decoration is of chrysanthemum and small leaf-like shapes which may be intended more to retain the enamel, rather than for their decorative appeal.
The unfortunate passing up of an opportunity to purchase contemporary works by Andō can be explained by the fact that by the beginning of the twentieth century the V&A had adopted a policy of acquiring only historical works of art and had stopped buying anything new.
Tea-jar, Namikawa Yasuyuki. Museum no. M.75-1969
Tea-jar (Japanese: natsume)
Signed Namikawa Yasuyuki
Height 6.4cm x diameter 5.4cm
Museum no. M.75-1969
The V&A's cloisonné collection has grown only modestly since the time of Andō's visit. A small group of objects, including this work by Namikawa Yasuyuki was bequeathed to the V&A in 1969, but otherwise there have been few additions of significance.
This small and elegant tea-jar carries all the details normally expected of the best work of Yasuyuki: the mirror-black enamel ground is covered with gold wire decoration of summer flowers in shades of polychrome enamels with small roundels to accentuate the flowers and scrolling karakusa on the ground. The jar is quite heavy for its size and the interior and base are all gilded in a deep golden colour. The base carries an applied silver plaque with the inscription Kyoto Namikawa.
Cloisonné enamelled table cabinet, Japan, 1890-1910. Museum no. M.70-1969
Cloisonné enamelled table cabinet
Japan; probably Nagoya
Copper, cloisonné enamel
Height 18.5 cm
Museum no. M.70-1969
This exterior of this small table-cabinet has a cloisonné enamel decoration of butterflies in hanging wisteria, all on a blue enamel ground. On opening, seven small drawers can be seen; these, and the inner face of the doors, are decorated with birds, including the mythical Hō-ō bird (a type of phoenix) in an autumnal maple tree together with chrysanthemums. This type of work is typical of the cloisonné enamels being produced in and around Nagoya in the latter decade of the nineteenth century.
The V&A's cloisonné collection has grown only modestly since 1910. The hope is that the Museum will be able to expand its holdings of cloisonné enamels and thereby give due recognition to an aspect of Japan's artistic legacy that has been the focus of increasing interest among museums and collectors during the last fifteen years.