His sale, Christie's London, European Courts Encounter Japan, 11 May 2015, lot 16;
Where acquired by the current owner.
The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984.
J. Ayers, O. Impey, J.V.G. Mallett, Porceleain for Palaces: The Fashion for Japan in Europe, London, 1990.
C. Sargentson, Merchants and Luxury Markets, London, 1996.
D. Kisluk-Grosheide, “The Reign of Magots and Pagods” in The Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 37, 2002, pp.177-197.
S. Gorō, ed. Julia Meech, Eight Parts Full: A Life in the Tokyo Art Trade, New York, 2011.
J. Ayers, Chinese and Japanese Works of Art in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 2016, vol.2.
Magots and Pagods in Europe
During the 17th and 18th centuries objects representing Asian figures were, in France, known as magots or pagods and were sought after by fashionable collectors and amateurs alike, who were drawn to the Far East allure and the need to possess figural representations of the fascinating and remote civilizations. Coeval descriptions mentioned magots or pagods as early as the second half of the 17th century. For example, the 1689 inventory of the Grand Dauphin’s collection of Chinese porcelain records almost 400 objects, mostly blue and white, but including two pagods.
Kisluk-Grosheide in her seminal article “The Reign of Magots and Pagods” mentions that “Parisian dealer Du Cauroy appears to have been one of the principal importers of such curiosities at the end of the seventeenth century. In his shop in the rue Briboucher he offered "bijouteries et coffres d'Angleterre, de porcelaines, pagottes, et terres cizelees et meubles de la Chine (p.179)". She continues “Contemporary descriptions convey the impression that magots and pagods were literally everywhere, embellishing textiles, wall hangings, and lacquer ware. The informative account book of the marchand mercier Lazare Duvaux notes that he supplied Madame de Pompadour, one of his regular clients, with a support for a "cabinet formant un secretaire revetu en lacq a pagodes" in June 1751 (p.180) (…) the popularity of pagods and magots remained entrenched in France and in neighboring countries throughout the eighteenth century, also stimulating the creation of mostly ceramic European imitations (op. cit, p.184)” of which Jack and Belle Linsky had several examples included in their generous gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1740, the trade card for the marchand-mercier Gersaint, designed by François Boucher, has in a prominent position an Asian figure above a Japanese lacquer cabinet and below the magasin name “A La Pagode” (fig.1).
The figures in the present lot – karako – represent a traditional Japanese ritual ceremony – chakko no gi - when five-year old boys are no longer infants but become children, wearing hakama (male skirt) for the first time on a go board. Go is a strategy board game, originated in China but extremely popular in Japan. Despite the specific representation of the figures of this lot, they were probably seen as part of this wide group of pagods and magots, character Asian figures of both divinities and mortals.
Although in the Japanese tradition the go board symbolises the world, this meaning probably escaped the marchand-mercier who embellished these figures. Nevertheless, the globe being held in the left hand might have suggested the use of the crescent on the headpiece as a pendant. If the crescent had been associated in the European tradition to Selene, goddess of moon in Classical Greece, or Diana, Roman goddess of Moon, hunt and nature, the choice here is probably connected with a will to create a sense of exoticism.
The trade of Japanese porcelain in Europe
By the mid-17th century, the export of porcelain from Jingdezhen in China, which had been the traditional supply source of Asian ceramics to the Middle East and Europe since the 14th century, almost came to a halt as it became disrupted by the civil wars that led to the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty by the Manchus. During this transition period, British and Dutch traders had to look for an alternative supply. Therefore, they turned to Japan where porcelain had been produced since the early 17th century, and where since the 1640's, the Dutch East India Company - 'V.O.C'- was operating a trading ‘factory’ on the small island of Deshima, off the coast of Nagasaki. The records of the V.O.C show that the first shipment of Japanese porcelain to Europe, a sample group consisting of mostly enamelled wares, occurred in 1657. It was not until 1659 that the first sizeable order of porcelain took place. Comprising a mere 65,000 pieces, it took two years to complete, reaching the port of Amsterdam in 1660. This episode is traditionally considered as the start of Japanese porcelain trade to Europe.
Although this shipment comprised of mostly plates, bowls and pots of variously adapted western forms, it also included some pieces of distinctive Japanese shapes, as well as porcelain figures and animals. This cargo was followed by numerous others up to the second quarter of the 18th century. From then on, the trade of Japanese porcelains began to experience a decline due to strong competition from other sources. China had since reorganized its production in Jingdezhen, and European factories had progressively copied the Asian decorations (and vice-versa), following the discovery of the secret for producing hard paste porcelain in Meissen in 1708.
Parisian marchands-merciers were among the various clients who attended the cargoes’ auctions in Amsterdam and London upon their return from the East. They would acquire Asian porcelain and later mount them in gilt-bronze, or adapt them as separate elements to create ingenuous works of art in the ‘Chinoiserie’ style. The present lot is a fine example of such craftsmanship.
The prices of Japanese porcelain were in fact higher than those of the Chinese, as evidenced by the meticulous records of the East Indiaman Dashwood auction in London in 1703 showing that the price of the Japanese pieces could fetch up to ten times the price of their Chinese equivalent. It is even more interesting to note that by 1724, marchand-merciers like Thomas-Joachin Hebert were saving stock of ‘old Japanese porcelain’, due to the lack of new arrivals. This “formed a sizeable proportion of Hebert’s stock and was, on average, more highly valuable than any other category except mounted porcelain. (Sargentson, p.67). It is in this context, of porcelain from the 17th century, mounted in the second quarter of the 18th, that the present lot must be considered - a highly sought-after collectible, embellished with rich bronze mounts, at that stage not as common a practice as it would become later on.
Bronze mounts in objets d’art from this period, apart from being quite rare, tend to be quite thin, formed from bronze sheets welded and cut to size, creating mouldings and rebates. The feet as an acorn, or flower button, surrounded by leaves seem to have been used for some years, yet the only comparable example known with rebated moulded plinths, with pearl moulding and without a cast leaf moulding, is a pair of pastille burners in the form of turtles in the British Royal Collection (RCIN 4961.1-2, a-b). Interestingly, these also have foliated branches which recall the leaves hanging from the headpieces of our figures.
Other comparable examples exist, with animals such as lizards on a stepped base, a pair of parrots now in the Residenz, Munich and another pair in the Victoria and Albert Museum (813-1882), however these tend to have a cast leaf moulding and appear to be of slightly later date.
Making the present pair even more rare is, of course, the magnificent head ornaments, which are a testament to the creativity of the marchand-mercier. If the bases elevate and adorn the figures, the head ornaments, with their symmetrical alternating matt and reeded leaves, issuing from a shell, transform them into new, culturally hybrid, images.
The tradition in the West has long been to designate Japanese blue and white porcelain as ‘Arita wares’ while enameled pieces were categorized as either ‘Imari’ or ‘Kakiemon’. In actual fact, all three types were produced in the town of Arita on the Japanese southern island of Kyushu. Kakiemon is the name of the specific kilns belonging to a family of enamellers. With its distinctive red enamelling over a milky white opaque glaze, Kakiemon porcelains were highly coveted in Europe and can be identified in a number of early inventories. Its distinctive style also had an impact on European ceramics, with many of its designs and shapes being imitated in multiple manufacturing centres throughout the 18th century. The present lot is not only a rare shape, but also an early example of this production. So far, no other examples of boys on a go board with mounts are known, but unmounted pieces are published in the following important collections:
- K. Hideo, Kurita Collection, Tokyo, 1967, p.238-9, no. 111
- O. Impey, Japanese Export Porcelain –Catalogue of The Collection of The Ashmolean Museum Oxford, Amsterdam, 2002, no. 188, (for further example in the Reitlinger Collection);
- British Museum Collection (BM, Franks.1065). This piece was the centrepiece of an exhibition in 2016 celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Kakiemon porcelain.
- Japan Society, New York, The Burghley Porcelains: An Exhibition from the Burghley House Collection and Based on the 1688 Inventory and 1690 Devonshire Schedule, New York, 1986, pl.94 (fig.2).
- V. L’Herrou, Galerie Théorème, Europe-Asie Echanges et Influences (exhibition catalogue, 1994), cover and p.2-3.
- Kyushu Ceramic Museum, The Shibata Collection, Part V: The Creation and Development of the Enpo Style, Arita, 1997.
Jack and Belle Linsky
Jack (d. 1980) and Belle Linsky (1904-1987) acquired their collection over a span of forty years through diverse but discriminating purchases. Both were born in the Ukraine and when young, emigrated to America. Although neither of them were formally trained in the field of art, despite the hectic schedule they both maintained at the helm of their prospering stationary business, the couple pursued their passion for art with an innate sense of quality and a distinct independence of taste. Mrs Linsky was credited with a “remarkable eye” for art, and the couple made their acquisitions largely without expert advice. The rich reward for the Linsky’s efforts was a superlative and multi-faceted collection of objects which represented their private taste and gave them immense personal pleasure.
After Jack Linsky’s death, his wife decided to donate five hundred works of art from their collection to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, with the galleries carrying their names opening in 1984. It revealed a treasure trove of rare European paintings, sculptures, porcelain, jewellery and furniture, being one of the largest donations the museum ever received.
Phillipe de Montebello, in the foreword to the catalogue of the collection (The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984) mentions how “they had the freedom to be bold, wilful, and even capricious, and they exercised it unsparingly. (…) the Linskys bought for themselves only, submitting totally to the pleasure principle. (….) it is testimony to the Linsky’s keen eye that their collection should be at the same time outstanding and so very personal. The Linsky’s sensibility drew them to precious and luxurious objects – to the elegance of eighteenth-century French furniture as well as to French and Germain porcelains”.
To the New York Times, Belle Linsky said ''We were just two impulsive people who acquired things not with knowledge, but with heart. When we saw something we loved, we had to have it. We didn't have much time, because in the stationery business you don't make easy money. You work. But when we went on trips, to Paris for example, instead of going to fancy restaurants like other people, we'd stop in at a dealers.''
At an early stage they decided not to get professional advice, ''because early on we assembled a collection of Fabergé objects, and the museum people laughed at us. After we sold it, there was a museum show in which all the things we'd sold appeared. So from then on, we were on our own.''
In 1985, Belle Linsky and her family foundation decided to sell some of the objects not donated to the Metropolitan museum, and entrusted Sotheby’s with the sale of almost 200 lots (Sotheby’s New York, Property from the Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 21 May 1985).
This same innate instinctive and remarkable eye is central to the fascinating life of Sakamoto Gorō (1923–2016), the Japanese dealer-extraordinaire (fig.3). Few individuals have shaped the market for Chinese, Japanese and Korean works of art as forcefully as the legendary collector, dealer and connoisseur. With a career that spanned almost 70 years, his journey to become one of the world’s greatest dealers of Asian art is as colourful and illustrative as the pieces he so admired.
Barely one day old when the Great Kantō Earthquake struck his hometown of Yokohama and rendered his father an invalid, Sakamoto was born into a life of hardship and determination. His mother raised seven children on her own, by walking to the countryside every day to bring back fresh eggs to peddle on her stoop, imbuing her son with qualities of ingenuity, discipline and hard work. After six years of elementary school, Sakamoto began apprenticing under a dried fish wholesaler. Determined to make it to the top, he dabbled in black marketeering after the war, before moving on to become a dealer in second-hand clothing, and finally, antiques.
Unlike his contemporaries, Sakamoto learned the trade through trial and error instead of apprenticing or inheriting a family business. He studied as many art books as he could and sought advice from renowned dealers, who were impressed by his pluck and courage. In 1947, at the age of 24, he set up his first shop in Tokyo. His journey was not without its challenges; he was confounded by imitations, and the first painting he purchased turned out to be a fake.
However, Sakamoto’s diligence, discriminating eye, and ability to forge long-lasting relationships soon propelled him to the top. Travelling the world seeking treasures, he broke the world record for the price paid for any piece of Chinese porcelain in 1972 - an underglaze-blue and copper red Yuan dynasty wine jar. For this, he wrote in his memoir, he was willing to sell his entire shop and inventory, a testament to his doggedness and appetite for fine rarities. His purchase of the Yuan jar palpably increased the appreciation for quality in this market; prices that collectors were willing to pay for Chinese ceramics rose immediately afterwards.
In his own words, he “prided himself on being the most daring purchaser of objects in the postwar era” and said that “The business of art dealers is to find these gems and reveal them to the world”. This approach produced numerous sales and donations to major museums in the world but also allowed him to buy without cultural prejudice. His collection of Japanese works of art made for the European market was remarkable and the pair of Karako embellished with bronze for the French luxury market, which Sotheby’s is here proud to present, is a fine example of the uncompromising eye of Sakamoto Gorō.
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