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Japanese Art of the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912)

In the 50 years leading up to the dawn of the 20th century, Japan transformed itself from an isolated feudal nation to a world power. The traditional arts seemed doomed to extinction as the country raced to modernize its industries.

However, after the young Meiji Emperor assumed the throne in 1868, Japan's new leaders realised that the historic skills of the metalworker, lacquerer, enameller and ceramic artist could play a vital part in the struggle to compete in international markets.
Before long, visitors to international exhibitions in Europe and America were confronted with astonishing displays of Japanese artistic creativity and technical virtuosity.
The masterpieces of Meiji art, in a unique style blending the best of traditional design with prevailing international taste, are unrivalled in the quality of their craftsmanship and were avidly sought by Western collectors. In more recent times, however, they have been neglected by scholars and collectors alike.
Now Professor Nasser D. Khalili has formed the world's greatest collection of Meiji decorative art, comprising over 1,200 pieces of metalwork, enamels, lacquerwork, and ceramics, works by most of the known masters from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century.
Until the 1980s very few had bothered to distinguish the good from the bad in Meiji arts and crafts, let alone the very good from the good. One of the reasons Professor Khalili has formed this Collection has been to rehabilitate these remarkable works of 'art-craft': to demonstrate their unrivalled virtuosity and to promote the study of their genesis and progression.
The considerable number in the Collection of works by, in many cases the finest artists, has made it imperative to look beyond mere admiration, and has made it possible to draw up a datable evolution of their art. A prime example is the work of the enameller Namikawa Yasuyuki; the Collection contains no fewer than 32 pieces signed by or attributed to this artist, whose work we can now date to within a few years. This has had the spin-off not only of the possibility of the accurate dating of the work of other cloisonné craftsmen, but also the beginnings of an understanding of the pattern of development in the evolution of Meiji decorative arts in general. It is now possible to discern three periods that cut across the categories of material: an early period, from the beginning of Meiji until the early 1880s; a second period that runs until very close to 1900; and a third until the end of Meiji and beyond.
Other artists or lineages of artists well presented and therefore subject to the same investigation are the metalworkers of the Komai family, the potters Makuzu Kozan and Makuzu Hanzan, and the Satsuma decorator Yabu Meizan. In the same way, works commissioned by the more important of the companies - the semi-official Kiritsu Kosho Kaisha and the private Ozeki Company - can be studied in some numbers.
Some 25 pieces were made on the orders of the Imperial Household, for they bear the kikumon or chrysanthemum symbol showing that they were commissioned by the Emperor as gifts to foreign dignitaries and royalty. Another 12 are important examples of the pieces made especially for display at the great international exhibitions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Curatorial and Administrative staff

Gregory Irvine
Honorary Curator, and Senior Curator in the Asian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Dror Elkvity
Curator and Chief Co-ordinator

The Kalili Collections

Writing Box and Paper Box (Suzuribako and Ryoshibako)

5 x 22.5 x 27 cm (writing-box); 10.2 x 30.1 x 39.5 cm (paper-box)
A matching set of suzuribako and ryoshibako, both with overhanging lids, decorated with auspicious motifs (takaramono). The lid of the suzuribako portrays the hat and cloak of invisibility and, on the reverse, stylized weights and crossed scrolls. The interior, decorated with branches of coral and a pearl, contains a black-lacquered wood ink-stone, a knife, a skewer, and two brushes, all decorated in gold fundame. The lacquered wood water-dropper echoes the hanabishi motif on the lid of the paper-box.

Writing Box (Suzuribako)

4.8 x 20.5 x 22 cm
suzuribako with an overhanging lid, decorated with motifs associated with festivals and other seasonal events. The outside of the lid depicts an itomaki [silk-winder] and set of tato or shikishi [folded decorative papers]. These are emblems of the Tanabata festival in the seventh month, celebrating the one day of the year when, according to an early Chinese legend, the Kengyu [Herd Boy] and Tanabata or Shokujo [Weaving Girl] are allowed to meet. The inside of the lid decorated with kamibina [paper dolls], alluding to the Girls’ Festival on the third day of the month, and a branch of shakuyaku [herbaceous peony]; in the corner a choshi [sake-pourer] and a nest of sakazuki.
The base of the box portrays a hagoita [battledore] and a single chrysanthemum-blossom. The decoration carried out on a seidonuri ground in gold, silver, and colouredtakamakie and hiramakie, with details in kirikanekeuchi, and aogai; the writing implements embellished with plain bands of black and gold lacquer. The ink-stone of wood, its base decorated in rough seidonuri and its sides withkimpun; the rim covered in gold fundame lacquer.
The hagoita [battledore] and hane [shuttlecock], the lacquered bronze water-dropper in the form of itomari[thread balls], and the single spray of chrysanthemum all appear to allude to the first month, despite the fact that the flower is more usually a symbol of autumn. The New Year theme is also alluded to in the decoration on thehagoita, of flowering red plum by a fence with a palace building in the background.
J. Earle (ed.), Meiji No Takara: Treasures Of Imperial Japan: Masterpieces by Shibata Zeshin, London 1996, cat. 5.
O. Impey, M. Fairley, J. Earle (eds.), Meiji No Takara: Treasures Of Imperial Japan: Lacquer Vol II, London 1995, cat. 204.
height 172 cm

A massive cloisonné enamel vase, with a pale grey ovoid body worked in silver wire with two eagles, one perched on a pine-branch, the other below, on a rocky ledge scattered with grasses, bamboo, and autumn leaves. The reverse with birds flying above turbulent water beneath branches of pine laden with snow. The neck decorated with alternate red and white bands of chrysanthemums and paulownia, the upper part with applied stars. The sides fitted with chrysanthemum-form handles hung with patterned swags of simulated drapery. The base decorated with formal foliate motifs.
The vase originally formed part of a three-piece garniture made for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago,


Display Cabinet
213 x 136 x 62 cm
A hardwood and cloisonné enamel display cabinet, with an asymmetric arrangement of hinged doors, open galleries, and sliding doors. The upper part of the upper section with a single hinged door in cloisonné enamel worked in silver wire with a dragon confronting a phoenix in a graduated mottled stone-coloured cartouche, reserved against a dark plum-coloured ground decorated with stylized butterflies, phoenix roundels, and scrolling foliage; to one side, two sliding doors decorated with numerous butterflies on a pale blue ground within a similar stone-coloured border, in the same style.
The central section with a pair of sliding doors worked inshosen with a swallow flying among morning glory and a large double white peony; the three back panels of shaped rectangular form worked in yusen with flowers on a pale blue ground. The lower part with a large pair of hinged doors worked in shosen and yusen with a duck and drake and snow-covered reeds beneath a full moon and clouds, on a graduated grey to blue ground, and a smaller pair of sliding doors with flycatchers and a shrike on trailing wisteria on a yellow-green ground, above three drawers decorated in a style similar to the border on the upper door. The doors and drawers framed in red lacquer, with some gold-lacquer decoration and profuse pierced carving of peony and phoenix.
The enamel panels on this grand piece of furniture are evidently the work of two different artists, working in wholly unrelated styles. The upper doors and the lower tier of drawers, here attributed to Honda, are in the formal style from which Namikawa Sosuke (and Namikawa Yasuyuki) had at this date broken free. The upper doors have borders of patterns unrelated to the central scene, while the other doors have no borders and are worked in styles that minimize the wire instead of emphasizing it. The doors of the central and lower sections are here attributed to Namikawa Sosuke, and it is interesting to see him working in three styles; the blue-grey-ground doors inshosen and musen are typical of his œuvre. The yellow-green-ground sliding doors are very much in the style of the Shijo artist Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918), using the scratchy, almost scribbed, wirework (see especially the peony) that apparently only Namikawa could do.
O. Impey, M. Fairley (eds.), Meiji No Takara: Treasures Of Imperial Japan: Enamel, London 1994, cat. 85.
J. Earle, Splendors of Imperial Japan: Arts of the Meiji period from the Khalili Collection, London 2002, cat. 177, pp. 260–1.

height 40.2 cm
moriage enamel vase, the shouldered body of tapering hexagonal form decorarted in quasi-Chinese style with a profusion of white prunus-flowers upon green and brown twigs and branches on a royal blue ground. Applied with silver mounts.
A pair of vases of similar design were included in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, illustrated in the catalogue, p.80. Others on a dark green ground were exhibited by Kawade at the Universal and Internatinal Exposition of 1905 in Liège, and are illustrated in the ensuing auction catalogue, lot 475 (see commentary on E 40).
It is worth speculating on the nature of the relationship between Ando Jubei and Kawade Shibataro: were they partners, or did the one employ the other? Why did Kawade sometimes sign his work alone, as here, sometimes with both names, and obviously (but without external corroborating evidence) sometimes with Ando’s name alone? Was Kawade a craftsman/artist and Ando the entrepreneur? That Kawade was not the only craftsman/artist in the Ando Company is clearly shown byE 31, which could not be by Kawade as he is not known to have worked in that traditional style. The vase E 42, signed by Ando, was exhibited under his name in the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 in London, but in the Japanese edition of the catalogue the vase is listed as the work of Kawade.

Incense Burner (Koro)

height 22.9 cm
A cloisonné enamel koro and cover, the ovoid body worked in gold and silver wire with three separate scenes of birds and trees including a lowering cherry-tree, a willow-tree, and a flowering plum, the branches worked in thick sculpted and tapered wire, on a dark blue ground. The intricate borders worked in silver wire with formal hanging blades, scrolling foliage, and minute florets. The domed cover pierced with five petal-shaped motifs outlined in silver and with a single floret border. Surmounted by an integral knop. The three bracket-feet scattered with spring maple-leaves on a buff ground.
This superb koro amply demonstrates the great variety of styles available from the Ando Company. The complexity of the wirework, the intricate borders, and the midnight-blue ground are generally associated with the work of the other great Nagoya workshop, Hayashi Kodenji. It is clear that the design and execution of this piece were not by Kawade Shibataro, the chief craftsman at the factory, who specialized in musen and moriage enamels (see E 28) and who is not known to have worked in this traditional, almost ‘classical’, style, with the use of complex wire.
The piece rests on its original fitted wood stand, carved with maple-leaves and pierced with scrolling foliage.


width 27.7 cm
An enamel tray of lobed outline decorated in partially wire-less enamel with a white egret perched on one leg on a willow-branch, the leaves and branch decorated in tones of grey to simulate ink-painting, while some of the details of the bird are in tones of yellow, all on a pale grey, matt ground. The reverse scattered with numerous gilt wire cherry-blossoms in tones of brown and fawn on a plum ground. Applied with a shakudo rim. Inscribed in the enamel ‘Seitei’ with kakihan.
This is one of several enamels from the Namikawa Sosuke Workshop, both signed and unsigned, that are based on designs by the painted and book illustrator Watanabe Seitei. Namikawa sosuke seldom used a matte ground; when he did, it was apparently in order to evoke the atmospheric effect of an ink painting, even though there is some colour on this piece.

Pair of Two-fold Screens

186 x 83 cm (each fold)
A pair of cloisonné enamel-inset, wooden two-fold screens each containing four rectangular panels, the group representing the four seasons. Each panel worked inmusen and yusen and mounted in a teak simulated-basketwork panel and a coromandel-wood simulated-bamboo border applied with trailing vine. On one screen the panels depict a partially cloud-obscured sun above stems of autumn grasses, a snow-covered pagoda above snow-laden trees, a log raft on a river beneath pine – and cherry-trees in mist, and fish swimming beneath blue and white wisteria. On the other the panels decorated with butterflies above wild flowers, a winter view of snow-capped Mount Fuji, a turbulent stream flowing between rocks and autumnal maple-trees, and duck on a rock above others swimming on water. The teak panels decorated with trailing vine worked in flambé transparent enamelled copper, pearl-shell, lacquer, and lacquered pearl-shell vine-leaves. The reverse of each panel a single piece of mulberry-wood applied with ivory egrets in flight, perched on a gnarled stump or on a willow-branch. The leaves and branches worked in gold and colouredtakamakie and hiramakie, and inset with aogai. With two lower mahogany panels pierced and carved with stylized sparrows and bamboo. The teak frame applied with cloisonné enamel mounts in the Chinese style.
These magnificent screens were made by the Ando company for the Liège Universal and International Exposition of 1905, where the Ando name-plate and trademark were placed on the exhibition stand and are visible in a photograph in the catalogue.
They were offered for sale at an auction held by Robinson and Fisher in Willis’s Rooms in London on 5 December 1905, where they were fully described and illustrated as: ‘500: a Magnificent Two-fold Screen, framed of teakwood, with cloisonné ornaments in joints, wire and wireless cloisonné panels, representing four Seasons, are fitted on one-piece Mulberry, which is thoroughly carved and tastefully inlaid with ivy leaves of mother-of-pearl. This grand specimen, which took the artist over five years for its completion, was designed by the well-known art designer, Shioda, and the pictures in panels were specially drawn by eight celebrated artists of today. 501: The companion screen.’
Whether the two screens were actually separated in 1905 is not certain; they certainly were so by 1987, when one of the pair was exhibited in Los Angeles at the County Museum of Art (attributed to Namikawa Sosuke). They are here reunited.
There is no indication on the screens as to the identity of the ‘eight celebrated artists of today’. The ‘well known art designer, Shioda’ is Shioda Shin, an influential figure in the enamel industry, who had been a consultant on arts and crafts for Aichi Prefecture. It was at Shioda’s house that the first meetings were held of the group of artists who executed the planning for the Japanese exhibits at the Vienna exhibition of 1873, and who later (1887) formed theNihon bijutsu kyokai (Japanese Art Society). It was this society which promoted the Court Artist system.

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