THE PROPERTY FROM A ROYAL COLLECTION
A Royal House.
In his his lifetime he managed to bridge with outstanding success the considerable cultural and artistic gap between the long-held customs of feudal Japanese society and the new and disturbing ideas and art forms of the Western world which were beginning to flood into Japan, and he achieved the remarkable feat of becoming famous simultaneously both in his own country and in The West.
Zeshin is perhaps better known as a lacquer artist, for which his art was acclaimed at the great expositions both in Japan and overseas in his last decades. His diverse work encompassed the Shijo, and Rimpa schools, and the Chinese-inspired work of Ogawa Haritsu, or Ritsuo (1663-1747).
In 1833 he received from Suzuki Nanrei, who called him by the familiar name Reisai, the names Zeshin and Tanzan, and the art name Rensai. Through Nanrei Zeshin had met Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845), who was to greatly influence his painting style. Zeshin also worked with and taught the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862).
His patronage by the Imperial Household was firmly established when he made a lacquered riding crop bearing the chrysanthemum mon for the Emperor Meiji in 1872. And in 1875 he was appointed as one of the artists enabled to examine the preservation of the lacquer works in the 8th century Imperial repository of the Todaiji temple, the Shosoin. He was also commissioned to paint doors in the apartments of the Imperial palace. In 1876 he was made an examiner for the newly established Kangyoryo [Bureau for Industrial Promotion under the Ministry for Home Affairs]. In the following year at the first Domestic Industrial Exposition Zeshin won the Ryumon-sho [dragon prize] with a lacquer panel, which was bought by the Imperial Household. In 1891, Zeshin was appointed a Teishitsu Gigei-In [Imperial Artist], and became a professor of the University of Fine Arts in Tokyo together with his fellow Imperial Artist Kano Natsuo (1828-1898), with whom he collaborated on a number of works, like the tanto mounting with waves depicted in seigaiha-nuri in the collection of the Nezu institute, Tokyo.
During his last years he made several great pictorial plaques using lacquer on wood like the present piece. His first major piece in this format was the prize-winning panel with Mount Fuji viewed from Tagonoura, which was shown at the 1873 International Exposition in Vienna. The present panel on offer which is now in private hands once belonged to the second president of the Mitsubishi Financial Group. Iwasaki Yanosuke (1851-1908). The panel was exhibited in 1890 at the Third Domestic Industrial Exposition at Ueno, Tokyo, where it was awarded the Myogi Itto Sho [First Prize for Exquisite Technique].The most similar example with lobsters was bought by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Economy, Trade and Industry in 1888, and exhibited at the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1889, receiving the Gold Medal, but this was lost in the Taisho earthquake of 1923.
The third known panel of the same subject is one of four important panels in the Khalili Collection, all of which are illustrated in Joe Earle (ed.), Meiji no Takara – Treasures of Imperial Japan, (London, 1996). It is apposite to list them briefly here as they represent a unique collection of Zeshin’s framed panels in both number and quality. The Japanese Imperial Collection contains three comparable pieces, one of an agricultural hut among fields, one of a silver vase, and one of a bamboo pavilion.
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