This catalogue of my collection is dedicated to the memory of my devoted wife Seta Krikorian.
The Meiji Era (1868-1912) marks the restoration of Imperial Rule to Japan after several centuries of government by the samurai class, and the rapid modernization of the country. Between 1639 and 1854 Japan had been closed to foreign contact except through the Dutch and the Chinese in controlled trading stations at Nagasaki. During this time the best artists were sponsored by the daimyo, or feudal lords, who each governed a province. These retained artists had a guaranteed income for life, while others worked independently to provide the same kind of luxury goods for the rich merchant class. The system allowed skills to develop to a high degree, with apprenticeships for painters, potters, lacquerers, and metalworkers often extended over ten years or more thus allowing the preservation of traditional skills, and a continuity of high quality work. Then with the rapid Westernization following the Imperial Restoration the traditional way of life changed, and the artists turned their traditional skills to making objects to suit the Western market. In 1867, the year before the Restoration, the government had sent a delegation to the Paris Exposition led by the fourteen year old son of the shogun. Independently the great samurai clans of Saga and Satsuma in Kyushu sent deputations carrying ceramics and various antiquities to Paris. From that time the craze for Satsuma ware swept Europe and America, and the Japanese potters were quick to step up rates of production in response.
The first exports to Europe via the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century had been predominantly lacquer and porcelain, which at the time had yet to be made in Europe. The designs of these export pieces had varied little over the Edo period, but this was to change radically following the Restoration.
The Emperor Meiji, who replaced the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu as Head of State, was a man of vision and culture. He encouraged the adoption of Western customs, fashions, education and industry, and above all the continuation of the traditional arts and crafts of Japan in a form adapted to world-wide taste and expectation. The Emperor personally bought many contemporary works of art at a series of Japanese National Industrial Exhibitions. In 1890 he instituted a system of honorific appointments to the Imperial Household called the Teishitsu Gigei-In or 'Imperial Artists'. These elite artists were commissioned to make pieces for presentation to both Japanese and foreign dignitaries and had the right to mark them with the chrysanthemum mon, or badge, of the Imperial family.
The two great strengths of the Krikorian Collection are the cloisonné and the ceramics. Both media benefited from the adoption of western colouring and firing technology and exemplify the then current slogan Wakon Yosai (Japanese Spirit and Western Learning). But there are also fine pieces of ivory and metal sculpture which make the collection representative over a wide range.
The metalworkers who had made decorative sword fittings in the past, after the prohibition of wearing swords in 1876, turned their skills to sculpting and inlaying traditional motifs on vases and other ornaments. Bronze founders who had hitherto provided alter paraphernalia and bells for Buddhist temples, and flower vases for secular activities, made decorative pieces often inlaid with soft coloured metals. The collection is particularly rich in iron ornaments finely and plentifully inlaid with gold designs by Komai of Kyoto, and a variety of work by other inlay artists.
Cloisonné had been used during the Edo period (1600-1867) to a small extent for small objects such as sword fittings, sliding door pulls, and the little water droppers in writing boxes. Then at around 1838 an enameller named Kaji Tsunekichi started to make cloisonné vases in Chinese style with pale turquoise ground and designs often reminiscent of Chinese bronzes. Kaji passed on his manufacturing secrets to a Hayashi Sogoro (d.1896) who in turn taught Tsukamoto Kaisuke (1828-87), whose pupil Hayashi Kodenji was to become a mainstay of the early export cloisonné industry. There are many examples of the work of Hayashi and his successors in the collection. All the various forms of cloisonné which were perfected in Japan are also well represented in the collection. Yoshida Naoshige of the Nagoya Cloisonné Company (founded in 1871) is said to have first devised cloisonné applied to a porcelain body. A fine porcelain bowl in the collection decorated with underglaze blue floral motifs and signed by the potter Torakuen Mokuzaemon is covered with a close pattern of cloisonné is a classic early Meiji example (Lot 240). A German chemist Gottfried Wagener (1831-92) who worked for the company Ahrens in Tokyo was prominent among foreign technologists who brought Western technology to Japan. He introduced improvements in glazing technology and colouration for both cloisonné and porcelain. Around the late 1870s Wagener met the cloisonné maker Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927), who together with Namikawa Sosuke was to be made an Imperial Artist in 1893. Yasuyuki (1845-1927), of Kyoto, who was able to achieve the finest bright opaque and transparent glazes, and a faultless clear black which provided the ground for colourful decoration. Namikawa Sosuke developed a method of 'wireless' enamelling whereby illustrations appeared to be paintings rather than enamelwork. Many of his works were illustrations of the painter Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918) whose 'signature' is found embedded in the enamelling set away from the illustration just as it were a painting in ink and colours on paper. Others, like Ando Jubei, also worked in musen jippo (wireless cloisonné), and some of his work is very close to that of Sosuke. Kawade Shibataro (1856-1921) of the Ando cloisonné company and Hattori Tadasaburo are both credited with the introduction of moriage, or high-relief enamelling, and Kawade also made pieces of plique-a-jour. The decoration of both cloisonné and ceramics included traditional Japanese themes and designs, but eventually, in response to Western demand and the fashion for Art Nouveau many Japanese artists developed their styles in adventurous ways. It is interesting to compare the free work of Namikawa Yasuyuki in his mature years (Lot 151), and the enduring formal style that was reserved for some of his greatest works like the pair of Imperial Presentation vases (Lot 150). Malcolm Fairley and Oliver Impey have shown, in a masterly study based on the pieces in the great Khalili Collection, how Yasuyuki's work progressed over his substantial lifetime. They state how, when both Namikawa Yasuyuki and Namikawa Sosuke obtained 1st prizes at the 4th Domestic Industrial Exposition in 1895, that Yasuyuki said to have progressed from "dragons, phoenixes, and bird and flower designs" to "forming a picture beyond mere pattern". But this pair of Imperial presenation vases shows a timeless excellence beyond the words of the critics of the day. There is masterly skill in the depiction of the dragons and phoenixes, while the panels they are set in are brought to life by the asymmetry and abandon of the flowers and scrolling which surround and intrude upon them. The vases are accompanied by an unauthenticated letter suggesting that they were given by the Emperor to Okuma Shigenobu, one of the most popular public figures of the Meiji Era who was twice Prime Minister, and who was made overseer of the Japanese entry for the 1873 Vienna Exposition. But the vases are among the best of all the work by Namikawa Yasuyuki, and they are of such intrinsic beauty that the provenance whether time will prove it or not, is almost irrelevant.
Japanese ceramics decorated with traditional Japanese scenes, legends, and bird and flower paintings were in high demand and the Japanese potters set to with a will to supply that demand. The most desired type was Satsuma ware, which makes up the major part of the ceramic section in the collection. Although Satsuma ware originated in domestic pottery made in Satsuma Province (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) around the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century, the method of decorating with brightly coloured enamels over a white or buff-coloured smooth crackled glaze ground spread to Kyoto, Ishikawa Prefecture, and elsewhere.
The Kinkozan studio, which had been active over seven generations in Kyoto following the style of Nonomura Ninsei in the seventeenth century, with coloured enamels on a crackle-glazed white or buff coloured pottery body, readily adopted the Satsuma export style. The finest Kinkozan pieces are probably those decorated by the artist Sozan, whose work is admirably exemplified by the tall vase with panels of landscapes, everyday life, and Geisha ladies (Lot 13). In Osaka Yabu Meizan (1853-1934) was particularly skilled with intricate figural paintings, often on smaller objects, using pottery blanks brought from Satsuma and Kyoto.
Miyagawa Kozan, another Imperial Artist, had moved from Kyoto to Yokohama in 1871 where he made his own form of Satsuma ware in the port convenient both for export and direct sale to the growing foreign population there. Many of his great export pieces are technically unmatched, although perhaps somewhat excessively decorative to our eye today. But his later work includes porcelain with elegant and free compositions of flowers and plants in clear and adventurous underglaze colours at which he excelled beyond all other potters. The production of porcelain had been rigidly controlled by the Saga clan for much of the Edo Period, but under the new liberal order individual potters and newly-formed companies, like the Koransha, flourished both in Saga and elsewhere. A major holder in the Koransha group was Fukagawa Eizaemon, whose family had been samurai, and whose company is still today a major manufacturer. In Kutani of Kaga Province (now Ishikawa Prefecture) studios of porcelain decorators flourished independent of the potters. Traders like the Watano Store set up export offices in the port towns of Kobe and Yokohama, from whence the colourfully painted wares, typically of birds and flowers, and often rich in lush overglaze red and gold were sought as eagerly as Satsuma ware. Traditional potters from areas such as Seto joined the export business, making the whole range of Kutani and Satsuma type wares.
From having achieved universal acclaim at Vienna in 1873 Japan continued to win awards at the international events. Japonisme became a leading fashion in art until the 1900 Paris Exposition when Art Nouveau, which had itself been fostered by the Japanese aesthetic, was deemed superior. From then on the Japanese artists, under government encouragement, turned from the repetitive tradition designs and developed their own individual art from the seeds sown by the Art Nouveau movement. Many of the finest works in the collection date from this period, and are of such quality as will probably never be made again.
THE AVO KRIKORIAN COLLECTION
SOLD BY ORDER OF THE GENEVA DEBT COLLECTION OFFICE AND MR. AVO KRIKORIAN
EDO PERIOD (19TH CENTURY)