Japan, Osaka/Tokyo, late 19th century
Superbly carved in relief to one side with a swallow flying above a chrysanthemum blossom amid bamboo stalks and smaller aster blooms, the other side with flowering peony and bamboo stalks, each side framed by scrolling clouds to the top and craggy rockwork to the base, the top carved with a diapered wave design and the base carved with a leaf. The swallow’s visible eye is inlaid.
The narwhal tusk netsuke carved with a foliate rim and small openings, the center fitted with a gold-inlaid shibuichi kanamono in the form of a flowering branch. The bone ojime carved in openwork with a floral design.
HEIGHT 10.2 cm (the inro), LENGTH 6.2 cm (the netsuke), DIAMETER 1.6 cm (the ojime)
Condition: Very good condition with three tiny chips to the edge of three leaves. Few natural age cracks.
The overall quality of the inro strongly suggest the master carver Kaigyokusai Masatsugu (1813-1892), or at the very least a close follower. Though rarely, Kaigyokusai was known to work in marine ivory and his inro usually featured floral décor carved in unparalleled relief. The artist of this superb inro clearly had a superior appreciation for this material, as the natural marbling and typical striations enhance the effect of the composition beautifully.
Compare to a closely related ivory inro by Kaigyokusai Masatsugu, with similar relief carving to the floral depiction, at Bonhams, The Edward Wrangham Collection of Japanese Art Part II, 10 May 2011, London, lot 328 (sold for 24,000 GBP). Another related inro carved from ebony, by Kaigyokusai Masatsugu, was sold at Bonhams, The Edward Wrangham Collection of Japanese Art Part V, 5 November 2014, London, lot 203 (sold for 21,250 GBP).
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