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Please note that the Japanese translation is incorrect. This lot is ink and colour on silk as stated in the catalogue.
ZESHIN IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
The long-lived lacquer artist Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) was one of the elite group of craftsmen schooled in the fashions of the Edo period, who made the great leap from the dictates of the feudal society into the Age of Enlightenment and Westernisation in Japan in the Meiji era (1868-1912).
He was apprenticed at the age of eleven to the great inro artist Koma Kansai II (1767-1835) from whom he learned the traditional techniques of makie. When he was sixteen he went to study under the Maruyama-Shijo painter Suzuki Nanrei (1775-1844), and in 1833 received from Nanrei who called him by the familiar name Reisai, the names Zeshin and Tanzan, and the art name Rensai. Through Nanrei, Zeshin had met Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845), who was to greatly influence his painting style. Zeshin also for some years worked with and taught the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862). In 1840 Zeshin became highly acclaimed with his painting of the Ibarakidoji, a female demon who had been terrorising people by the Rashomon gate, escaping clutching her own demon arm which had been cut off by the Heian hero Watanabe no Tsuna. The vivid and frightening picture is said to have influenced the later work of Kuniyoshi and others.
Zeshin became a prolific painter of popular subjects and was hugely popular with the Edo townsfolk in Edo period Japan. His light-hearted and vivid depictions of everyday Japan, its custom, and legends were among the earliest art to find favour in the West after the Imperial Restoration. But it is as a lacquer artist that Zeshin is perhaps best known, and for which his art was acclaimed at the great expositions both in Japan and overseas in his last decades. His diverse work encompassed the Shijo and Rinpa schools, and the Chinese-inspired work of Ogawa Haritsu, or Ritsuo (1663-1747). He introduced the technique of painting on paper with lacquer to give an impression of richness and three-dimensionality. He created and perfected lacquer in simulation of Rimpa-style lead inlay (saharinuri), of red sandalwood (shitan-nuri), in simulation of iron rust (sabi-age), and the inlay of various materials, extending the range of surface textures which had been introduced by Ogawa Haritsu (Ritsuo), and notably (seigaiha-nuri), the depiction of sea waves by combing the lacquer before it had hardened.
His patronage by the Imperial Household was firmly established when he made a lacquered riding crop bearing the chrysanthemum mon for the Emperor Meiji in 1872. And in 1875 he was appointed as one of the artists enabled to examine and advise on the preservation of the lacquer works in the 8th century Imperial repository of the Todaiji temple, the Shosoin. He was also commissioned to paint doors in the apartments of the Imperial palace. In 1876 he was made an examiner for the newly established Kangyoryo [Bureau for Industrial Promotion under the Ministry for Home Affairs]. In the following year at the first Domestic Industrial Exposition, Zeshin won the Ryumon-sho [dragon prize] with a lacquer panel depicting a rustic hut in fields, which was bought by the Imperial Household.
In 1891 Zeshin was appointed a Teishitsu Gigei-In [Imperial Artist], and became a professor of the University of Fine Arts in Tokyo together with his fellow Imperial Artist Kano Natsuo (1828-1898), with whom he collaborated on a number of joint works, such as the tanto mounting with waves depicted in seigaiha-nuri in the collection of the Nezu Institute, Tokyo. His pupil Ikeda Taishin (1825-1903) inherited his style and was himself made an Imperial Artist some five years following Zeshin’s death. During his last years he made a number of great pictorial plaques using lacquer on wood, with all the lacquer skills he had absorbed and devised. His first major piece in this format was probably the prize-winning panel with Mount Fuji viewed from Tagonoura, which was shown at the 1873 International Exposition in Vienna.