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An Important Late 17th Century Japanese Lacquered Cabinet Edo Period on Stand #3027

An extremely fine, elegant and rare late 17th Century Japanese lacquer cabinet, from the Eco period, on later lacquered black stand.

Japanese circa 1690


A private Scottish collection

This outstanding cabinet is a fascinating fusion of east and west. The cabinet itself would have been made in Japan, c.1690, and is decorated to the outside with hiramaki-e lacquer. This technique involves the use of sprinkled gold powder which adheres to the lacquer surface. On the best pieces, as with this example, many layers are added in order to create areas of high relief and give depth to the surface decoration. The taste of the Japanese workshops in this period was often for quite restrained pieces with plenty of the black background visible, unlike some of the busier Chinese lacquer or European japanned examples produced around the same time. The Japanese makers seemed content to rely on the outstanding quality of the lacquer itself, regarded by most experts as the finest lacquer ever produced, and did not see the need to cover every surface believing that less was more in this respect. The lacquer here is used to produce a mountainous scene with buildings on the bank of a river, the other side of the river with more buildings and a contrasting flatter and forested landscape. The fine perspective achieved is the result of the clever use of raised and flatter areas in the lacquer itself in combination with the drawing of the design itself.

Another remarkable aspect of this piece is the fine metalware throughout, but particularly the lockplate / hasp, hinges and foot mounts to the front. This is all beautifully cast and engraved contrasting against the black background. Interestingly another cabinet on stand with near identical metalwork was advertised in the Burlington Magazine, November 1913, with the dealer W. Williamson and Sons of Guildford. The lacquer on that piece is similarly refined and it seems likely that both pieces came from the same workshop.

The European influence in our piece can be seen in both the later ebonised stand and in the japanned decoration which has been applied to the inside of the doors and is also very fine indeed. This consists of two panels with birds of prey perched on branches in colours set against a golden background. The cabinet has a recent Scottish provenance and so it is likely that the ebonised stand was made in Britain though such pieces were made throughout Europe as a way of quite literally elevating these imported pieces of eastern lacquer as in Japan these would have been used on the floor. Inside the cabinet there is a combination of more Japanese lacquer and lock plates and European drawer handles. Most of the lacquer drawer fronts incorporate mountainous scenes and birds in combination, with a few purely one or the other of the two subjects. Again the lacquer is in excellent condition and is of exceptional quality with multiple layers of relief used in one single scene in many cases.

As mentioned above, Japanese lacquer is the most technically brilliant of the eastern lacquers and, as such, was highly prized by collectors and connoisseurs throughout Europe when this piece was made. The acquisition of such pieces would only have been possible for a small group of incredibly wealthy individuals, largely royal or high ranking courtiers or merchants connected with the East India trade. Comparable examples survive in several important collections such as a pair at Shugborough



one at Kingston Lacy


and one at Ham House, perhaps the most important house for lacquer pieces outside of the royal collections


Pieces of this quality are very rarely encountered on the market and this is a true collector's piece today, just as it was when it was first made.

Width: 38 1/2 inches - 98cm
Height: 62 inches - 157cm
Depth: 22 inches - 56cm

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