A descendant of the court physician for the Ii family, the Daimyo of Hikone, Yotatsu Tanaka was a doctor of medicine and a keen collector of Kutani wares and Western antiques. His eclectic collection, and in particular the present ornate clock, was always somewhat at odds with his traditional Japanese home.
As a small child Dr Tanaka's son, Kiyoshi Sato, persuaded his father to buy him a musical box which he had heard in an antique shop. This acquisition became the catalyst for establishing a collection of music boxes from around the world, a passion to which he devoted a great deal of time and effort. In 1992 Dr Sato's son, Ken Tanaka, opened the Nasu Orgel Museum, primarily devoted to musical boxes and automata from Mr Sato's collection, in memory of his father. The present clock, gifted to Ken Tanaka in 1956 by his grandfather, was kept in pristine condition at the museum although it was never displayed.
The clock is to be offered at auction in order to raise funds to establish a new facility at the Nasu Orgel Museum for parents and children to learn about musical boxes in commemoration of the museum's 20th anniversary in 2012.
An almost identical 'jardiniere' clock formerly from the Nezu Museum collection was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, Magnificent Clocks for the Chinese Imperial Court from the Nezu Museum, May 27, 2008, lot 1509 (fig.1). Both clocks have automata figures that move in confronting directions, indicating that the present and the Nezu clock were probably made as a mirror pair. A related example, in the Beijing Palace Museum, shows automaton flowers of closely related design to those found on the present clock but which are not fully functioning, illustrated by Liao Pin, Clock and Watches of the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2002, p. 55. A similar jardiniere clock from the Nezu Museum was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1505, where the footnote discusses the Qing Palace fascination for decorative 'potted plants' which were given as tribute from the Guangdong workshops.