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Bonhams Fine Japanese Art Auction

‘Rembrandt Of The East’ Offers Beauty And The Potential For Growth In Value At Bonhams

The interesting and diverse group of drawings being offered in Bonhams upcoming auction of Fine Japanese Art on 12 November should whet the appetite of many a passionate collector as well as the astute investor. The group includes an important work by the artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hailed as the Japanese Rembrandt, he is considered to be one of the few Japanese artists whose name and reputation have been established beyond dispute, even in the West.

japanese-art.jpgAmong the 540 lots in this sale there is a myriad of pieces on offer from prints, paintings, ceramics, ivories, netsuke, painted screens, sculpture to exquisite lacquer boxes all of which richly illustrate the Japanese love of design and fine craftsmanship. A number of pieces – screens, vases and lacquer and ivory feature the peacock or peacock feathers, a popular motif in the applied arts then as much as it is now, being often used in the repertoire of today’s designers. But among this treasure trove of Japanese Art, the Hokusai’s drawing stand out.

Head of Japanese Art at Bonhams, Suzannah Yip, comments: “The shita-e (preparatory sketches) by Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Hokuba in this sale range from £400 to £20,000, providing a very attractive buying opportunity because as far back as the early 1970’s collectors were paying up to £50,000 for one of Hokusai’s coveted works of ink on paper.” Ms Yip was one of the specialists who catalogued the Paris sale of the renowned Huguette Berès Collection in 2002 and 2003 which also achieved very strong prices for drawings of comparable quality.

The Hokusai works in the Bonhams sale comes from a distinguished private collector. Hokusai was once memorably referred to as the Rembrandt of the East by the late Jack Hillier, one of the world’s most revered scholars and authorities on Japanese prints and graphic arts.

The Bonhams Japanese sale comes just as a series of conferences on the work of Hokusai takes place at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Art, the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum on 6th , 13th and 20th November.

Hokusai has the prestige of having produced what is arguably the single most famous work of Japanese art outside Japan – The Great Wave – which has iconic status. The wave in early 19th century Japan was a motif that represented Japans anxiety about the world beyond its borders.

Lot 252, the cover image of the Bonhams sale catalogue, is by Katsushika Hokusai and depicts a Rakan riding a shishi. A work of ink on paper it is estimated to sell for £20,000 to £30,000.

The shishi or mythological Chinese lion was a recurrent motif in Hokusai’s extensive artistic repertoire. In ancient China the lion was an emblem of Imperial power, and through associations became popular in Japan as a motif connected with the military elite but for Hokusai it would appear that the Chinese lion imbued more playful and auspicious qualities – as an animal that wards off illness, bad omen and death, hence the name by which the title of this album is known, Nisshin joma (Daily exorcisms).

During the last decades of his illustrious career, around Tempo 14 (1843), Hokusai already in his eighties, produced hundreds of ink drawings of lions on paper, apparently for himself, as a talisman in defiance of old age. Each day every morning, at least one drawing was created in the course of one year. Some drawings showing the shishi in a variety of amusing poses whilst others personify the shishi in the guise of, or in the company of, popular historical or legendary figures. The exact number of these impromptu shishi sketches are not known but over two hundred are believed to be extant today, the majority of which make up the Nisshin joma album which was presented to Miyamoto Shinsuke, Hokusai’s samurai-patron by O’ei when her father could not complete a commissioned painting on time.

This drawing, lot 252, hitherto unrecorded, was certainly intended for the same series. The work embodies the artist’s extraordinary adeptness and virtuosity with the native brush – from the casually executed heavy slurred strokes representing the Rakan’s robes to the finer more precise line of the figure’s head, hair and hands. The tail and mane of the lion typically rendered like swirls of smoke, the intense glare of the animal mirroring that of the Rakan, as well as the bolder and defined outline of the animal’s back and right hindleg, are all characteristics which serve to exemplify the work as being by the hand of the Master. In addition the calligraphy flanking the image also matches the handwriting on the sheets from the Miyamoto album.

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