This rare and striking writing-box was formerly in the Behrens, Corbin and Vever collections1. Its bold style and literary subject-matter reflect the influence of the protean genius Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637), who was like So Dongpo an important calligrapher, as well as being a painter, potter and sword-appraiser. A number of other boxes in this characteristic form and with similar dimensions are known, including one formerly in the Charles A. Greenfield collection and another in the Atami Art Museum (now the MOA Museum of Art); it was later copied by Koetsu's follower Tsuchida Soetsu2 and others. Although it is not certain that Koetsu actually made lacquer, he certainly collaborated as designer with a group of specialist craftsmen in the artistic community at Takagamine outside Kyoto, and the fact that the inkstone is located to the left of the box suggests that this example can be closely associated with him. The poet, calligrapher, philosopher, prose stylist and statesman Su Dongpo was demoted towards the end of his career to a minor official post in the southern Chinese island of Hainan. The parallels between his career and that of the Japanese statesman and culture-hero Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) made him a favourite subject for Japanese artists.
1 Glendining and Co., auction catalogue of the W.L. Behrens Collection [by H.L. Joly], pt. 2, Lacquer and Inro (London, 1914), no. 6 (pl.III; Hotel Drout, Laques du Japon, auction catalogue of the Paul Corbin Collection, (Paris, 22-4 February 1926), no. 2.
2 Andrew J. Pekarik, Japanese Lacquer, 1600-1900: Selections from the Charles A. Greenfield Collection (New York, 1980), no. 52, figs. 64-5 and pp. 55-8; Eskenazi Limited, The Charles A. Greenfield Collection of Japanese Lacquer (London, 1990), no. 52; Okada Jo and others (ed.), Nihon no shitsugei 3: maki-e III [Lacquer art of Japan part 3, Maki-e, section III] (Tokyo, 1978), 126-7 (Koetsu box in Atami Art Museum); Honolulu Academy of Arts, Shadows and Reflections: Japanese Lacquer Art from the Collection of Edmund J. Lewis (Hong Kong, 1996), no. 19 (box by Tsuchida Soetsu).