Among the many genres of Japanese decorative art, none can be more precisely tied to the evolutional moment of the Meiji period than cloisonné enamel. Gradually, cloisonné occupied a position of great international importance in the decorative arts and was developed in an environment that was situated between the cultures of Japan and the West.
Decorative metal objects with applied cloisonné enamels are known in Japanese as shippō, meaning “seven jewels.” The term shippō was often used within Buddhist traditions, referring to valued commodities, including gold, silver, crystal, coral and pearls, which were traded along pilgrimage routes. As a decorative medium, Japanese cloisonné enamel was re-invented in an emerging exchange with Europe and America at the turn of the nineteenth century. The peak of artistic sophistication of Japanese cloisonné enamel lasted from around 1880 to 1910, a period often referred to as the Golden Age. During this period, there were hundreds of cloisonné enamel workshops to meet the demand of what was predominantly a western export market. Among those workshops, one of the most influential and productive was the Ando Cloisonné Company (Andō shippōyaki Ten). Founded by Ando Jubei in Nagoya in the 1880s, this company remains in business today as the last of the nineteenth century cloisonné companies in Japan.
The artisans of the Ando Cloisonné Company were active participators at international expositions in Europe and America around the turn of the century. They innovatively absorbed artistic trends of Western art of that time, such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau. During the Golden Age, Kawade Shibataro (1856-1921) headed the manufacture of the Ando Cloisonné Company. Kawade introduced and developed numerous technical innovations on which the sucess of Ando Company was based.
[Ando’s] reputation was established chiefly by the splendid work turned out by his chief enamel artist and designer, Kawade Shibataro, who is deservedly considered the greatest enamel expert in the manufacture of shippō at the present time. Perhaps no other living person has done more towards the improvement of Japanese enamels and the invention of new methods of application than Kawade. (Gregory Irvine, Japanese Cloisonne Enamels, (London, 2011), p. 39.)
Kawade’s major development was the moriage technique. Rather than remaining restricted to a two-dimensional surface, Kawade perfected the moriage relief decoration, which allowed him to explore modifications to the surface profile of objects. This innovative technique, which required extreme care, especially at the polishing stage, involved building up layers of enamels to produce a sculpted, three-dimensional effect and was ideally suited to subjects such as plants and flowers. Molding the branches of the budding plant around each of the vases in complementary directions, Kawade created a sculptural quality in the design that the moriage relief only enhances. This style of sculptural forms later became one of the signature features of works made at the Ando Cloisonné Company.
Kawade also ensured that his works were in the forefront of fashion in the international market and created this enamel bowl that comfortably harmonizes with Japan and the West. For instance, he incorporated peacock feathers, which were seen as an “exotic” design in Art Nouveau décor, among peony sprays. For an example of a vase of Kawade depicting peacock feathers, see: Jiro Harada, Japanese Art and Artists of Today, VI: Cloisonné Enamels, (The Studio, June 1911), p.276. For a similar design of peacock feathers by the artist Kawade Shibataro, see Lawrence A. Coben and Dorothy C. Ferster, Japanese Cloisonné, pl.98 and Professor Jiro Harada, Japanese Art and Artists of Today, VI: Cloisonné Enamels, p.276.
Today, Kawade's works are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number: 1976.320.2), Victoria and Albert Museum (accession number: FE.33:1, 2-2011) and Dallas Museum of Art (accession number: 19188.8.131.52.FA).
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