Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644)
Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644)
Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644)
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Property of an Important Private New York Collection
Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644)

Horses in a Mountain Meadow

Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644)
Horses in a Mountain Meadow
Sealed Unkoku and Toeki
Pair of six-panel screens; ink, color and gold leaf on paper
58 ¾ x 138 ¼ in. (149.2 x 351.2 cm.)
Marquis Maeda Toshinari (1885–1942), Tokyo
Collins & Moffatt, Seattle
Marian Willard Johnson (1904–1985), New York
“Works of Old Masters,” Bijutsu Gaho (November 20, 1904), Plate 2.
Shoga Taikan (Compilation of calligraphy and painting). Tokyo: Shoga Taikan Kankokai, 1917, Plate 8 and pp. 111–12
Japanese 16th18th Century Screens; 12th14th Century Paintings, New York: Willard Gallery, 1960, cat. no. 2
Yamamoto Hideo, “Unkoku Togan hitsu Gunmazu byobu” (Screens depicting a herd of horses by Unkoku Togan), Kokka 1141 (1990), fig. 7, p. 25.
Unkoku Toeki / Unkoku Toeki and followers of Sesshu in the first half of the 17th century, edited by Watada Minoru. Yamaguchi City: Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, 2001, fig. 7, p. 105 [listed as Maeda Collection].

Lot Essay

Until now, the location of these screens has been a mystery. As recently as 2001, Japanese scholars listed the owner as Maeda Collection. In 1904, and again in 1917, when the screens were first published as rare masterpieces worthy of attention, they were in the collection of a famous, old daimyo family in Tokyo, Marquis Maeda Toshinari (1885–1942). Maeda commanded Japanese forces in Borneo during World War II and died there in a plane crash.
At some point, presumably after Maeda’s death, works from the Maeda Collection—probably including this pair of screens—were acquired by Mayuyama Jun’kichi (1913–1999), the preeminent Tokyo dealer in Asian art during the second half of the twentieth century. He documented his successful postwar interaction with foreign clients when he published his Japanese Art in the West in 1966.
Marian Willard Johnson (1904–1985), who opened her first gallery in New York in the 1930s, had no background in things Japanese, but she had featured Northwest Coast artists such as Mark Tobey and Morris Graves who were inspired by Japanese art and philosophy. In 1952, she mounted the first exhibition of prints by Munakata held outside Japan, including loans from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, at Willard Gallery, 23 West 56th Street. Yanagi Soetsu and William S. Lieberman contributed the text for the brochure. In 1955, 1956 and 1960, she mounted sale exhibitions at her gallery of Japanese paintings from the collection of Seattle dealers Collins & Moffat, who were well acquainted with Morris Graves. Willard was working with her friend, the handsome, Harvard-educated novelist and art dealer Bertrand (“Bertie”) Collins (1893–1964), and his younger partner, David Moffat. Collins was the wealthy son of a former mayor of Seattle. Both Moffatt and Collins had been to Japan many times in the early 1950s on buying trips.
In January 1957, Collins wrote to Willard asking whether she would take this pair of horse screens on consignment. He knew they were something special:
I don’t know if [Moffat] told you of a pair of screens—Horses against a gold background—which we are acquiring. They were painted for the palace of one of the Tokugawa shoguns and [are] said to be magnificent. . . .
I was wondering if, when they arrive, they appear to be. . . outstanding, you would be willing for us to send them on to you; to hold in reserve for certain clients you might have in mind. There is no sale for anything like that out here. As a matter o’ fact, we don’t even attempt to sell anything here in Seattle. With that snobbery peculiar to the provinces, people will refuse to pay $1,000 here for something they will pay, and gladly, $1,750 in New York.
Willard included the screens, without attribution (the seals were unread at that time), in her December 1960 exhibition with an estimate of $4,500 and Maeda Collection provenance. In 1975, she had the screens appraised by the New York dealer Roland Koscherak. They never sold and remained in her personal collection, resurfacing only now, nearly sixty years later.
In a September 1960 letter to Willard, Collins explains that he acquired many screens—including a few intended for the December exhibition—in Tokyo directly from Mayuyama, who was disposing of some of the Maeda Collection that had accumulated in his shop. Collins describes in some detail the crafty method Mayuyama had concocted for exporting great works of art in such a way as to evade scrutiny by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (Bunkacho).
We know that Mayuyama had a long-standing relationship with Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976), a collector of Asian art and philanthropist who founded the Seattle Art Museum, and served as its president and unofficial director in the early days, and with the museum’s curator of Asian art in the late 1940s, Sherman E. Lee (1918–2008). Mayuyama also sold directly to Fay Frederick (1891–1959), widow of Donald E. Frederick, who founded the Seattle-based department store Frederick and Nelson’s. Among the treasures she acquired from Mayuyama is the famous Deer Scroll by Hon’ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu, now the centerpiece of the museum’s Asian collection (1951.127). In 1960, Frederick’s daughter, Fay Padelford, sold some of her mother’s screens, originally acquired from Collins & Moffat, through Willard Gallery.
The screens offered here invoke a Chinese-style landscape teeming with wild horses against a gold-leaf ground. They were painted by Toeki, the second son of Unkoku Togan (1547–1618), heir to the artistic legacy and patrons of Sesshû Toyo (1420–?1506) in western Japan. Regional schools like the Unkoku workshop were patronized by powerful local daimyo—in this instance, the Mori in Suo and Hagi—who brought Kyoto-trained artists to their strongholds in the provinces to underscore their cultural and military authority. The Unkoku style was characterized by a strong, tensile ink line, a composition based on a balance of wash and large unpainted areas, and a shallow spatial representation. Horses were prized possessions of the feudal aristocracy and Togan painted several screens of horses in a landscape destined for the inner chambers of the castle of a powerful daimyo. One pair from about 1600, with a herd of mysteriously pale, almost ethereal wild horses, is in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum.
Toeki is here following in his father’s footsteps but we may well say that he surpassed his father. There are two other horse screens by Toeki, one in the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art and another—current location unknown—formerly in the Baron Takahashi Collection. His horses are usually in the so-called hakubyo or “white-line-style,” like those of Togan, but here he uses more color. The horses seem posed to record every possible attitude and angle from which they might be viewed, from the bony sleeping nag in the fifth panel from the right on the right screen to the graceful pair galloping in tandem on the left screen.
Of course, the landscape features are close in style to Togan, as might be expected in an artist’s early work. The square seal on the screen here is one Toeki used only early in his career. It appears, for example, on his painting of Daruma in Chion-ji, Kyoto, with an inscription by a monk who died in 1617. What sets these screens apart is the use of a gold leaf ground, which would not appear in the work of Togan and is used in only one other pair of screens by Toeki. They are a very important example of Toeki’s early work, strongly influenced by both Togan and the spirit of late Momoyama painting.
Last but not least, in his description of the Toeki screens in the Willard catalogue, Bertrand Collins astutely notes that the drawing of the horses is reminiscent of Chinese Tang-dynasty models. Japanese scholars such as Yamamoto Hideo have noted a Chinese connection when discussing Unkoku Togan’s horse screens. In particular, we should call attention to works such as the Yuan-dynasty painting of a bony old nag in a handscroll by Gong Kai (circa 1304) in the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts (see fig. 1).

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