Among the remarkable Japanese masters of the art of cloisonné enameling, Namikawa Yasuyuki stands out. Namikawa represented Japan in a number of international expositions, winning prizes at the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, celebrating America's Centennial in 1876, and the Exposition Universelle, Paris, in 1900. Together with the unrelated Namikawa Sosuke, Yasuyuki was appointed Artist to the Imperial Household (Teishitsu gigeiin), the two enamelers so honored. This exquisite vase demonstrates the delicacy of design and skill of wirework and enameling for which the Namikawa workshop was and is justly famous.
The earliest Japanese cloisonné vessels, made in the mid-19th century, were decorated with rough, dark enameling in a crude imitation of Chinese prototypes. By the late 1880s, Japanese enamelwork was one of the wonders of the international marketplace. Around 1878 or 1879 Namikawa Yasuyuki met the German chemist Gottfried Wagener (1831-1892) with whose knowledge of ceramic pigmentation he was able to develop and refine his glazes in color and texture to make both transparent and opaque glazes of faultless clarity. He took great care over his compositions and varied the standard motifs so that each piece was unique and with its own charm and character. A comparison to paintings of wisteria by Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858) may reveal Namikawa's stylistic inspiration and perhaps his aspiration to achieve the effect of ink and colored scrolls by effectively opposite means: the hammering and inlaying of wire to resemble ink lines and the meticulous inlay of glass-and-additives powders onto metal to be fired and polished into luminous colors that rest on the surface of the vessel like colors on silk. (For Kiitsu wisteria paintings, see Kobayashi Tadashi, ed., Seasonal Flowering Plants and Birds, vol. 2 of Rimpa Painting [Tokyo: Shikosha, 1990], pl. 116; and a painting in the Tokyo National Museum, accessible online at http://webarchives.tnm.jp/imgsearch/show/C0036775.)
For similar ornamental vases, see Enamel, vol. 3 of Meiji no takara Treasures of Imperial Japan: The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Japanese Art, Oliver Impey and Malcolm Fairley, gen. eds. (London: The Kibo Foundation, 1994), cat. no. 27; and Sano Art Museum et al., Kindai kogei no hana: Meiji no shippo (Glory of modern artistry: Meiji-period enamelwork) (Kyoto: Maria Shobo Co., Ltd., 2008), no. 97.