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Bonhams offers exquisite private collection of Japanese works of art
A very fine ivory netsuke of a stag by Okatomo, Kyoto, late 18thearly 19th century. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- On the 8th November, Bonhams will be selling the Harriet Szechenyi Collection of Japanese Art in New Bond Street, London. Much like the author Edmund de Waal in his memoir “The Hare with the Amber Eyes”, Harriet Szechenyi was fascinated in building a unique collection that had passed from hand to hand, travelling the world and studying the history of the works of art.

Born into a Swiss family of collectors, Harriet discovered the intriguing category of Japanese netsuke*, after seeing and buying a simple 18th century study of a mythical lion dog in the 1960s. The shishi netsuke, the first lot in the sale (est. £450-550), provided the catalyst to begin studying and finding fine examples to collect. Harriet travelled extensively to Japan, America and Europe and in the UK met the Japanese art specialist, Luigi Bandini, who shared his enthusiasm and passion for netsuke. With his advice, Harriet began to build what became one of the finest collections of its time formed during the second half of the 20th century, containing an unprecedented number of high-quality pieces.

Harriet taught herself to read the characters of the signatures on the signed pieces and became knowledgeable about the mythology depicted in the objects she collected. As an animal-lover Harriet had a preference for animal models of netsuke, including birds, aquatic creatures, reptiles and insects. Where human figures are represented in the collection, it is generally due to their association with an animal or imaginary creature.

he top lot of the sale, a finely detailed ivory netsuke of a stag by the Kyoto master Okatomo, late 18th/early 19th century, is estimated to sell for £50,000 – 60,000. Further highlights include:

*An ivory netsuke of a kirin (animal god) by another Kyoto master, Yoshimasa, early 19th century, (est. £50,000 – 60,000)
*A rare ivory netsuke of two recumbent stallions by Masanao, Kyoto, late 18th century (est. £30,000 – 35,000)
*A fine boxwood netsuke of a chicken and young, by Masanao, Kyoto, late 18th century (est. £25,000 – 30,000)
*A boxwood netsuke of a baku, Early 19th century (est. £25,000 – 30,000)

Other works within the sale at Bonhams include a superb collection of Inro** due to Harriet Szechenyi’s later interest in the Japanese art of lacquering. Highlights include:

*A fine single-case lacquer inro by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period (est. £60,000 – 80,000)
*A rare green lacquer five-case inro by Koma Kansai, 19th century (es.t. £40,000- 50,000)
*A gold lacquer and metal-inlaid two-case inro by Higashiyama Motonobu, late 19th century (est. £15,000 – 20,000)
*A lacquered wood three-case inro by Ogawa Haritsu (Ritsuo, 1663-1747), 18th century (est. £10,000 – 15,000)

Neil Davey, Senior Consultant for the Japanese Department comments “Bonhams is exceptionally honoured to present this extraordinary collection of Japanese art. It was the wish of Harriet Szechenyi and her family that this wonderful collection, which she cherished so much, be dispersed so that that new generations of collectors and students of Japanese art could experience at least some of the immense pleasure of acquisition, study and ownership that she had enjoyed”.

*netsuke is a small carving in wood or ivory that keeps the inro securely closed.

An inro (literally meaning sealed case) is a traditional Japanese case consisting of a stack of small, nested boxes that were used to carry small objects such as seals, tobacco and medicines; the netsuke is a small carving in wood or ivory that keeps the inro securely closed. Japanese men wore traditional Kimono and the inro were worn suspended from the sash for all to see. After humble beginnings as functional items, between the 17th-19th centuries inro and netsuke were developed by some of Japan’s finest craftsmen into miniature works of art.

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