From March – May 28, 2011, Erik and Cornelia Thomsen will stage a show of important Japanese lacquer boxes, Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes, at the new purpose-built gallery they recently moved into at 23 East 67 Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.
“Japan’s history of producing some of the world’s most beautiful lacquer art is well known and documented,” Erik Thomsen said. “Asian art connoisseurs recognize both the decorative value of Japanese lacquer ware as well as the exceptional quality of the finishes Japan’s masters employed so artfully.”
Among highlights of Golden Treasures are natsume tea caddies made for the tea ceremony, ‘kogo’ incense boxes, ‘tebako’ accessory boxes and ‘ryoshibako’ paper boxes.
“The Golden Treasures show at the gallery is a special occasion for us. Japanese artists distinguish themselves in their skill creating unique lacquer ware. We have many requests throughout the year from collectors of these rare and beautiful art objects.”
“One fascinating lacquer work is a circa 1900 Meiji Period box made of a natural gourd. It is decorated on the outside with gourd flowers and leaves in a raised takamakie gold and silver lacquer with rims are in silver lacquer.”
The oldest Japanese lacquer items date to the 6th century. During medieval and early modern times the skills of Japan’s lacquer masters were employed to produce everything from writing and toiletry boxes, to bowls and containers, to eating utensils, and ink stone cases, even furniture, saddles and armor.
Today, Japan’s list of National Treasures include many examples made of fine lacquer, from shrines and scroll boxes to helmets and cosmetic cases. During the Tempyo Culture, when Buddhism was introduced in the Nara period (710-794), the Raden technique used mother-of-pearl inlaying and green snails, abalones or shells of butterflies to create unusual lacquer items.
To make the finest Japanese lacquer artists employ a complex three-step process in which a base, often wood, paper or leather, is covered with several layers of lacquer. In the maki-e technique the lacquer is decorated with a powder of gold or silver or metal as the lacquer is hardening. Different techniques were mastered to create unusual finishes. With the ikakeji technique, finely ground gold powder was spread to mimic solid gold.
The Golden Treasures exhibition at Erik Thomsen Asian Art includes numerous important examples of lacquer mastery.
A Natsume Tea Caddy with a Spring and Autumn motif is decorated with Cherry Blossoms and Maple Leaves. The three-inch caddy is made with Maki-e sprinkled gold and silver foil on a black lacquer ground. It was created during the Showa Period c. 1980 in Japan.
Another exceptional work in the exhibition is a 19th century maki-e, Writing Box with Books. One book is decorated with a dragon in dark clouds and a multitude of kiri-gane gold-foil inlays while the second book is of Phoenix roundels and seasonal flower bouquets in minutely-detailed gold takemake lacquer on a diamond shaped floral pattern in gold and silver togidashi lacquer. The dramatic designs on the inside cover feature a large red sun appearing behind narrow clouds, rising above craggy rocks in a stormy sea. The scene refers to a poem from the famous poetry anthology, the Kokin wakashu.
Also on view is a magnificent Writing Box with the Hundred Kings by Mikami Yokodo dating to the 1920s-30s during the Taisho-Showa periods. The outside is dominated by two dramatic shishi lions in gold, silver, red and black raised takamakie lacquer; they are surrounded by stylized peonies in gold and silver lacquer togidashi on a roiro black lacquer ground. The design originated in ancient China. The legendary shishi lions were called the “king of hundred animals” and the peony “the king of hundred plants.” Compositions that depicted both together were deemed auspicious and were called The Hundred Kings.
The award winning workshop of Mikami Yokodo won honors in Chicago in 1893, Seattle in 1896 and Hanoi in 1903. The son of the founder, Mikami Jisaburo carried on the family tradition and won a prize at the 1937 Paris exhibition.
Thomsen and his wife, Cornelia, an artist who began working with him in 1994, relocated to New York from Germany with their three children in the fall of 2006. Since then they have expanded the gallery twice to better display the rare large screens and paintings they acquire.
Erik Thomsen is Danish-American, but grew up in Japan. When he became the first foreigner to apprentice to a Japanese art dealer in 1983-84, the Tanaka Onkodo Gallery in Aoyama, Tokyo, his fluency in the Japanese language helped him become a trusted member of the profession. He maintains close relationships with major art dealers in Japan and has unusual access to outstanding works of art.
Thomsen began dealing in Japanese art works 25 years ago and his clients include numerous museums and important private collectors.
Thomsen is also well known for offering exceptional porcelain sculpture by the Kyoto-based contemporary ceramic artist, Sueharu Fukami (b. 1947), whose mastery of the sleek, bluish-white porcelain that is his signature, has won world acclaim. Thomsen says, “Sueharu Fukami’s pale-blue glazes are inspired by the glazes of Song-Dynasty qingbai wares, but the perfectly formed, elegant shapes of his sculptures are modern and distinctly his own.”
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Erik and Cornelia Thomsen
23 East 67th St. 4th Fl. (bet. Madison and Fifth Aves.)