A Very Rare Japanese Lacquer Panel by Ogawa Ritsuo 1663-1747
7 3/4 x 3 7/8 x 1/4 ins. (19.7 x 10 x 0.6cms) This panel was sold in Paris on the 15th. June 1907. It was part of the important Suminokura Collection from Kyoto. The "Expert" for the sale was M. Bing, the Japanese authority, publisher of the journal "Artistic Japan" and originator of the term "Art Nouveau". The Suminokura were a prominent Kyoto family of merchants and engineers. The panel was probably bought at the Suminokura sale by the collector Henri Vever and was sold again at Sotheby London in the Vever Collection sale Part 3 17th. July 1973 Lot 116.
Ritsuo, Korin and Zeshin, are now regarded at the triumvirate of Japanese lacquer innovators. Ritsuo's main contribution to lacquer technology was his technique of inlaying pottery into lacquer designs. In the present example it is difficult to say which is lacquer and which is pottery, it is almost certain that the white areas are pottery and maybe other areas. The design is in fairly high relief on a finely woven cloth (probably silk) ground which was gilded originally. Ritsuo's seal, reading "Kan", is at the lower left corner. On the back is the Suminokura sale lot number, 199.
The design shows a Shinto wedding arrangement of ceremonial sake bottles with their decorative folded paper tops, a set of three sake cups and a Shinto sacred branch (tamagushi) all on a lacquered wood stand. Behind is a double carp (koi) which symbolises perseverance. The symmetry of the design is unusual but one of the few examples of symmetry in Japanese design is that of Buddhist and Shinto altars. Maybe this panel was a wedding gift.
The back has a lacquered woven cloth layer and a gilded copper hanging ring. The purpose of the panel is not clear, it is possible they were made to hang on the wooden pillar (hashira) roof supports in the home as the width would be about right for that purpose. Hanging panels of this form are very unusual in Japanese art.
The condition is good with no repairs but there is, as the photos show, wear, small chips and bruises, discolouring and soiling. Ritsuo was an extraordinary artist, a painter, a potter, a poet, a lacquerer, a book illustrator etc. and one of the great innovators in Japanese art. Examples of his work are highly sought after.
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