Meiji-period cloisonné enamel vase heads back to Japan after auction in Kent

A cloisonné enamel vase by Namikawa Yasuyuki, £29,000 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on April 10.

A Meiji period vase by one of the greatest exponents of the intricate art of cloisonné enamel will be heading back to its country of origin after its sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell

A cloisonné enamel vase by Namikawa Yasuyuki, £29,000 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on April 10.

The 7.25in (18.4cm) vase from the Kyoto workshop of the renowned artist Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927) was decorated in coloured enamels and varying thicknesses of gold wire with a cockerel and a Pekin chicken among flowers and birds. Signed to the base, it sold to a Japanese collector bidding online for £29,000 on April 10.

The vase had been acquired at some time in the late 19th or early 20th century by Edward John Power (1858-1916), a collector primarily of oriental items, books and paintings and it had passed by descent to his great-grandson. “It was a piece of exhibition quality,” said auctioneer Cliona Kilroy. “We chose it to illustrate the back cover of the sale catalogue and we knew it would sell well, but I was surprised it fetched so much. The family who had inherited it were delighted with the outcome.”

Namikawa was instrumental in refining the art of cloisonné into elegant visual fantasies known in Japan as shippo-yaki. By the 1890s, he employed a team of highly skilled specialist craftsmen in Kyoto fulfilling imperial commissions and selling to private Edwardian collectors of Japanese art worldwide. A major exhibition in Japan in 2017 reignited interest in his work.

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Another piece by Namikawa, a 6in (1.5cm) high vase and cover, appeared at Mellors & Kirk of Nottingham on March 20. It was the subject of much interest before the sale eventually selling to a phone bidder for a hammer price of £16,000.

Unsigned as is often the case (Namikawa believed that “If my work will not declare itself to be mine, then the marking will do no good”) it was from a slightly earlier period c.1880-90 and decorated with panels of flowers and butterflies or a phoenix separated by silver and copper wires. It was sold together with a blue card label, found inside, for the Barcelona Universal Exposition, 1888.

Enamels by the Namikawa workshop were displayed in the Japanese pavilion at Barcelona alongside work by Kozan, Eisuke and Chokichi, together with a large display of the work of prestigious Japanese companies co-ordinated by Matsuo Gisuke (1837-1932).