Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

An Important Japanese Nuri-Guri Lacquer Table - Edo

An Important Japanese Nuri-Guri Lacquer Table - Edo


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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Lacquer: Pre 1920: Item # 1149295

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Collectors of Chinese and Japanese lacquerware will usually be familiar with a lacquer technique known as nuri-guri – see below for a full explanation of the technique. Over our 25 years of collecting we have had 4-5 examples of nuri-guri items – always either tea caddies (natsume) or small covered boxes( kogos). These small items usually are priced in the area of $350- $750. Here we have a truly rare and exciting nuri-guri lacquer table. It is the only nuri-guri item we have ever seen of this large size.

This magnificent table measures a full 17” high. The top is 10” square by 2” thick and the base is 10 ½” square by 2 ½” thick. The flared legs are 12” tall and the pegs at the bottom of each leg are ½” long to fit into the four holes in the base of the table. The entire top and sides of the table are decorated with the very finest in nuri-guri lacquer carving. The table is very sturdily constructed and is quite solid and stable when in use. It is in excellent condition – a couple of tiny nicks in the lacquer – but you have to search to find them. We date the table to the late Edo to early Meiji period, circa 1840s- 1880s.

Nuri -guri is the technique of laying down and alternating dozens of layers of red and black lacquer and then carving through the layers in intricate geometric or curved patterns borrowed from the Chinese. The deep cuts are made at an angle so that the various layers of colored lacquer are revealed. Raw lacquer is highly toxic and must be applied slowly and with great care. Moreover, each coat of lacquer must be fully dry before the next one can be applied. Since the surfaces of lacquer vessels may consist of several dozen coats of lacquer, the manufacture of lacquered objects may take months or even years of intermittent labor to complete.

We have examined the table in every area with a ten power loupe. In almost all areas of the nuri-guri technique, the design is made up of seven layers of red lacquer and seven layers of black. Each of these layers had to have been made up of at least 12-24 separate coats that then had to be dried before applying the next. Thus there are literally score of individual layers of lacquer that make up the full design of the table. It must have taken a minimum of 2-3 years for the piece to have been completed.

This type of tixi lacquer is often referred by the Japanese name guri lacquer. The reference is to the most common designs on these wares, which are scrolling patterns. The word guri refers to pommel scroll, which these designs are thought to resemble The most popular design, and the one seen on this table, is usually described as ruyi yun wen or ruyi cloud pattern.

While the technique of tixi lacquer can be traced at least as far back as the Tang dynasty, it rose to particular popularity in the Song and Yuan periods. Lacquer is really the sap from a tree known as `Rhus Vernicifera'. The Chinese were the first to discover and use it, at least a century before Christ, when it was used as paint, and more often as a preservative. It was a very effective preservative, as many pieces still exist from as far back as the Han period 206BC, when Lacquer was very popular and in extensive use.

The earliest known Japanese Lacquer dates back to about the 7th Century, but it was not until the 14th and 15th century that the Japanese Lacquer works became so much more decorative. By then they had refined and created exceptional techniques, far finer and more beautiful than the Chinese lacquer that they had simply originally copied. The Chinese had used shades of black, brown, yellow, green, and mostly red or cinnabar Lacquer. They mainly favored deep carving of the Lacquer, to form the decoration, and produced some outstanding work. The technique used in this table is known as `Guri' Lacquer: the colors are red and black which were built up in layers, and then a geometric or symmetrical pattern was be carved with a deep `V' shaped cut, so that all these alternating layers would be revealed within the cuts.

More photos can be seen on the next item - # 1149296