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Rare Cosmetic Box by Imperial Artist Tops Bonhams Japanese Sale

LONDON.- A rare and important early 20th century cosmetic box by Asahi Gyokuzan was one of the highlights of the Fine Japanese Art sale that took place on the 12th May at Bonhams, New Bond Street. Asahi Gyokuzan was a designated Imperial Court Artist and one of the most famous and influential carvers in Japan during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

The cosmetic box, which realised £192,000, was made of white paulownia wood and represented the hallmark of the finest Japanese art: the depiction of the transience of nature. Asahi Gyokuzan deliberately used the medium of a box, since it could be opened and closed, and in doing so created a series of stories and movement: the stages of the flowering Chrysanthemums representing Autumn, the flying birds on the inside of the box, and the light droplets of water, inlaid in mother-of-pearl.

Other highlights of the sale included a lacquer tobacco container by the renowned artist Zibata Zeshin, one of the most famous painters and lacquerers of the 19th century Meiji period in Japan.

Estimated at £25,000 – 30,000, the crafted box depicting a gardener’s thatched hut and bonsai plants realised £96,000, after much enthusiastic bidding. Three other works by Zibata Zeshin made the top ten lots of the sale, showing the recognition of the artist’s ingenious craftsmanship. A complete set of twelve poem-slips, depicting customs and symbols associated with the twelve months of the year realised £48,000 and a black lacquer, four-case inro sold for £36,000.

A rare 18th century finely-inlaid lacquer okimono (anaturalistic animal figure)of an elephant that had been in an English private collection for over a hundred years, exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £20,000 – 30,00 to sell for £84,000. The artist Ogawa Haritisu was one of the first artists to incorporate diverse materials into his lacquerwares, including ceramic, metal and shell amongst others.

An intricately carved ivory fan from a private English collection, depicting a complex shrine was estimated at £15,000 – 18,000 and sold for £48,000.

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