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The dragon is a stunning example of jizai okimono, naturalistic, fully articulated iron animal figures, whose bodies and limbs can be moved replicating their counterparts in real life. Photo: Bonhams

LONDON.- An unprecedented, extraordinary, fully articulated iron dragon is the highlight of the Bonhams Fine Japanese Art sale taking place on 11th November at New Bond Street. The 133cm long creature is estimated to sell for £120,000 – 130,000.

The dragon is a stunning example of jizai okimono, naturalistic, fully articulated iron animal figures, whose bodies and limbs can be moved replicating their counterparts in real life. The extraordinary dragon offered by Bonhams has a long serpentine and undulating body, forged with numerous scales that have been joined inside the body. The head, mouth, claws and ears are each constructed of moving parts and the leg joints can turn 180 degrees.

Although little is known about the origin and development of jizai okimono as works of art, this dragon was created in the Edo Period (18th/19th century) by the Myochin School. Historically, members of the Myochin Family were supreme armour makers and famous for their excellent iron forging and hammer work. However, during the protracted long peaceful Edo period there was less demand for the manufacture of armour and the family used their craftsmanship and expertise to create other objects, including jizai okimono. Following the Government’s policy of promoting industry and exporting decorative art, many jizai okimono found their way to the West and have been of fascination ever since.

The dragon offered for sale by Bonhams is one of only three known to exist that are similar in size and workmanship, and is an outstanding example that demonstrates the enviable standard of forged iron work at the time.

The dragon theme is continued by a further highlight in the form of an exquisite cloisonné-enamel vase by Namikawa Yasuyuki, from the Meiji period (late 19th / early 20th century). The midnight-blue ground vase, estimated at £70,000 – 80,000, is delicately worked in silver wire with two coiled, five-clawed dragons surrounded by flames. Namikawa Yasuyuki is considered to be one of the most famous cloisonné-enamel artists in Japan although his small body of work seldom appeared on the open market. He used to work in small studio in Kyoto, employing around ten craftsmen who sat on mats in a tiny room that was no more than twenty feet square. They were responsible for inventing the glassy very dark enamel that can be seen on this vase. A uniquely difficult enamel colour to create within this rich luscious tone, it was seen as a major breakthrough for the industry and the technique soon spread to other factories in Japan.

Following on from our very successful sale in May, Bonhams are delighted to offer again another fine and varied selection of Japanese works of arts displaying the very best of design and craftsmanship.