Ogawa Haritsu, also known as Ritsuo, one of the great individualists in the history of lacquer, was a poet as well as a painter, potter and lacquerer. In the 1680s, he became a disciple of the haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). Haritsu turned to lacquer after 1707, the year his friends Hattori Ransetsu and Takarai Kikaku, both disciples of Basho, died. He adopted the art name Ritsuo, or "Old man in a torn bamboo hat," in 1712. The name suggests a poet or artist wandering carefree.
The decoration of this stationery box is set against a wood surface that has been rubbed to create an aged, worn appearance. Haritsu specialized in the combination of unusual materials such as pottery, bone, lacquer, shell and wood. His sophisticated taste and modern approach appealed to literati circles in the eighteenth century, and he served as both artist and artistic adviser to the daimyo Tsugaru Nobuhisa (1669-1746). By the late nineteenth century, Haritsu was venerated in the West as one of the great artists of Japan, along with Hokusai and Korin.