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Please note the estimate is GBP 1,000-1,500. The extra zero is a misprint.
JAPANESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART FROM THE COLLECTION OF LOUIS GONSE
Louis Gonse (1846-1921), whose descendants have consigned the following Lots for sale, was one of the foremost figures in the great craze for Japanese art that gripped Paris from the 1860s until the close of the nineteenth century. The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 gave French connoisseurs their first opportunity to view Japanese art in quantity and at first hand, and in 1871 Henri Cernuschi and Théodore Duret visited Japan in order to extend their collections, followed by Emile Guimet, an industrialist from Lyon, who arrived at Yokohama in 1876, accompanied by the artist Félix Régamey, with the intention of carrying out an exhaustive investigation into Japanese religion. The works of art that Guimet acquired in the course of his two-month visit led to the foundation of a museum in Lyon that would later be transferred to Paris and become the French National Museum of Oriental Art.
The Paris Exposition of 1878 was a further stimulus to French interest in all things Japanese and, perhaps more important, brought the indefatigable Hayashi Tadamasa to Paris, first as an interpreter at the Exposition, then as representative of the semi-private Kiryu Kosho Kaisha [First Manufacturing and Trading Company] and finally as an independent dealer. While his business partner Wakai Kenzaburo returned periodically to Japan to supply Hayashi with much of his stock, Hayashi rapidly developed a network of business relationships with all the leading collectors of the day, including such figures as the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Philippe Burty, Cernuschi, Duret, Guimet and later Pierre Barbouteau, Paul Corbin, Charles Gillot, Raymond Koechlin, Charles Haviland, Gaston Migeon and, last but not least, Louis Gonse. (Books relating to many of these collectors, including Gonse himself, found in the Probsthain Library, see in particular Lot 216).
Gonse had originally qualified in law before becoming interested in art and archaeology. Possessed of a substantial private fortune he never had to take a regular job, preferring instead to collect and write not only in the field of Japanese art, but also on the engravings of Rembrandt, Gothic art, French sculpture and Edouard Manet. From his position as editor-in-chief of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (from 1875 to 1894), Member of the Conseil Supérieur des Beaux-Arts and Vice-President of the Commission des Monuments Historiques, he influenced a whole generation of French taste in Japanese art in part by holding exhibitions such as a major show at the Galeries Georges Petit in 1883 but especially thanks to his pioneering study L'Art Japonais, first published in the same year. According to the collector Raymond Koechlin, Gonse ' . . . permitted himself to be won over and was one of the first to understand that Japanese art had more to offer than mere trifles'. Hayashi not only supplied Gonse with many of the most important pieces in his collection, but also assisted in him in compiling his great work. He ' . . . translated artists' signatures and during long evenings at the Gonse family home . . . supplied him with information still unknown to "young" European scholars.'1
Although most of the text of L'Art Japonais was written by Gonse himself, albeit with the ubiquitous figure of Hayashi a constant silent presence, the chapter on La Céramique was penned by Samuel Bing, the well-known art dealer who played such a pivotal role in Parisian Japonisme. It is clear from Bing's remarks that he was in touch with some of the most up-to-date information available. He was familiar with the work of the American zoologist turned ceramic historian Edward Sylvester Morse and was personally acquainted with the Japanese expert Ninagawa Noritane (1835-85), whose Kanko zusetsu [Illustrated discourse on ancient objects], published in Japan from 1876 to 1878 with a French-language text (see Lot 213), was such an important influence on European enthusiasts for Japanese art. Taking his cue from Ninagawa, Bing expressed the opinion that 'Japanese pottery occupies a pre-eminent position, if not the pre-eminent position, within the family of ceramic art. I use the word "pottery" advisedly, since it is in pottery and stoneware that the artists of Japan have most clearly demonstrated their superior and highly individual gift for the play of enamels and where they have produced the most varied effects of colour and decoration. Their products in porcelain are nothing more than an imitation, and often a feeble one at that, of superb Chinese originals. It is vital to understand this distinction . . .'2
The majority of Gonse's collection was dispersed at a series of auctions held from 1924 to 1926, but a few pieces (including some from the sales) remained in the possession of his family and despite Bing's remarks it is interesting to discover that Gonse had developed a quite sophisticated taste in Japanese tea ceramics, in particular plain stoneware cha-ire or tea-caddies from several of the most celebrated kilns, without any 'play of enamels' or indeed any 'decoration' in the nineteenth-century sense. Perhaps some of these more subdued pieces date from the later part of Gonse's collecting career, when the taste for highly decorated ceramics had yielded to more subdued wares under the influence of the Americans Edward Sylvester Morse and Ernest Fenollosa and the British Charles Holmes. This unusual group of Lots offers us a glimpse in the inner world of this 'highly cultivated man' who was always 'somewhat secretive and aloof', 'rarely attending auctions' but 'silently amassed his collections, locked himself away in the small cubicles at Hayashi's with inro and sword guards' or 'rummaged through Bing's cubicles, constantly adding pieces to an already very rich collection'.
1 Max Put, Plunder and Pleasure: Japanese Art in the West 1860-1930 (Leiden, 2000), p. 76, quoting Notes d'un vieil amateur d'art de l'Extreme-Orient (1930), a long letter from the collector Raymond Koechlin (1860-1931) to Gaston Migeon
2 Samuel Bing, in Louis Gonse, L'art japonais (Paris, 1883), p. 241
3 Max Put, op. cit., pp. 82, 85
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY