By Matsuki Hokei, signed Hokei 宝桂
Japan, Tokyo, late 19th century, Meiji period (1868-1912)
Hurtig, Bernard (1973) Masterpieces of Netsuke Art: One Thousand Favorites of Leading Collectors, p. 212, no. 899.
Davey, Neil K. (1974) Netsuke: A comprehensive study based on the M.T. Hindson Collection, p. 162, no. 485.
Exquisitely and comically modeled with the face creased into a grimace as he stares upward with round eyes and recessed pupils, framed by long flowing hair with neatly incised strands, the mustache similarly incised, the various layers of lacquer clearly delineated and the reverse lacquered black save for the red-lacquered edges and himotoshi bar signed HOKEI.
HEIGHT 5.2 cm
Condition: Very good condition with minor wear to lacquer.
Provenance: Ex-collection E. Evelyn Barron. Ex-collection Mark T. Hindson. Sotheby’s, The M. T. Hindson Collection of Important Japanese Works of Art, Part VIII (Final), London, 20 October 1969, lot 253. Ex-collection Edward A. Wrangham, acquired from the above. Bonhams, The Edward Wrangham Collection of Japanese Art Part II, 10 May 2011, London, lot 98 (sold for GBP 4,800). Ex-collection Robert Fleischel, acquired from the above. European collection P. Jacquesson, acquired from the above.
Shojo is used exclusively for the play Shojo (The Dancing Orangutan). Despite the name, the mask is that of a smiling youth, certainly not an ape at all. The distinguishing feature of Shojo is his overall reddish color, the color which symbolizes the drunkard. This crucial feature to the mask obviously lends itself well to the medium of carved red lacquer. The present mask netsuke, however, presents Shojo in a rather unique way, with a distinctive grimace instead of the usual smile.
Matsuki Hokei was perhaps the most famous and certainly one of the finest workers in tsuishu (carved red lacquer). His figures in this material are comparable to the finest wood and ivory Netsuke, the various layers of lacquer used to denote highlights in some cases. The work is always well-finished. He taught several pupils whose work was similar but lacking the finesse of the master. See Davey, Neil K. (1974) Netsuke: A comprehensive study based on the M.T. Hindson Collection, p. 161.
Compare a related tsuishu mask netsuke of a grimacing male mask, 4.8 cm high, dated 19th century, illustrated in Eskenazi (1998) Japanese netsuke, ojime and inro from a private European collection, p. 63, no. 66.
Compare to a related tsuishu mask netsuke of a tengu, by Somin, at Zacke, Fine Netsuke & Sagemono, 16 April 2021, Vienna, lot 283 (sold for 9,150 EUR).
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