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A roiro lacquer four-case inro By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period £162,000. Photo: Bonhams

LONDON.- Bonhams announced that a 19th century roiro lacquer four-case inro by Shibata Zeshin has made the world record price for on inro in an international sale, selling for £162,000 in Part 1 of the Edward Wrangham collection, one of Europe’s most important and comprehensive private collections of Japanese Gentleman’s accessories. The sale took place on 9th November at New Bond Street and made over £2million with 94% of lots sold by value.

Although estimated at current market levels, many of the coveted inro and netsuke offered by Bonhams sold for over ten times their pre-sale estimates to major international collectors, including some from the USA and Japan, who were all vying for the collection.

This private collection was formed by the late environmentalist, mountaineer, scholar and collector Edward Wrangham OBE. Considered the last of the great British collectors of Japanese art, Wrangham continued to add to his collection until his death last year, sourcing works of art from all over the world. His entire collection, which was also published and written about by Wrangham himself, comprises over 1000 pieces of inro, netsuke and Japanese sword fittings assembled over many decades.

Four out of the top ten lots comprised works by Shibata Zeshin, one of the most famous painters and lacquerers of the Meijii Period. A small lacquered fubako (document box and cover) skilfully rendered in a variety of textures sold for £74,400, over ten times the pre-sale estimate of £7,000 – 8,000. A rare grey and silver lacquer and kiri-wood four-case inro depicting a crescent moon amongst swirling clouds, sold for £66,000 against the pre-sale estimate of £2,500 – 3,000. The final work by Zeshin to be included in the top ten lots was a large single-case inro and kozuka (a handle that holds a small blade) that sold for £38,400.

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A roiro lacquer four-case inro. By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period. Photo: Bonhams

Decorated with a design which is continuous on both sides, lacquered in black and gold shishiaimakie showing a boat drifting above waves rendered in seigaiha-nuri, loaded with young pine and takaramono, the myriad treasures associated with the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, the interior of rich nashiji, signed within an oval reserve Zeshin; with lacquer hako-netsuke similarly lacquered with waterweed floating above a combed wave pattern, signed with scratched signature Zeshin; 7cm (2¾in). Sold for £162,000

宝船図蒔絵螺鈿印籠 銘「是真」 明治時代

Provenance: Colonel J.B.Gaskell collection, no.680.

Exhibited: Meiji, Japanese Art in Transition, The Haags Gemeentmuseum, The Hague, Holland, 1987, no.199.

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A small lacquered-wood fubako (document box and cover). By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period. Photo: Bonhams

The cover of the elegant, narrow box is embellished with an itomari ball lying beside pine needles, in black, gold and red takamakie, skilfully rendered in a variety of textures, whilst the shitan-nuri box is decorated with a simulated crack that has undergone a skilful repair in the form of a butterfly-shaped cleat, the interior of dark olive-green lacquer, the inside of the bamboo cover with scratched signature Zeshin; 2cm x 21.3cm x 5.1cm (¾in x 8 3/8in x 2in). (2). Sold for £74,400

松葉に鞠図紫壇塗文箱 銘「是真」 明治時代

Provenance: F.A. Richards collection, purchased at Sotheby's London, 1964.
Wrangham collection, no.344.

Shitan-nuri (rosewood lacquer) was one of the most complex surfaces that Zeshin invented. He is thought to have developed it during the 1840's and 1850's. The effect of the simulated repair is to suggest that the box is a treasured family heirloom, lovingly repaired and cherished through the ages and which perfectly suited its purpose.

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A rare lacquer and kiri-wood four-case inro. By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period. Photo: Bonhams

One side of light, unstained wood, lacquered in grey and silver relief with the crescent moon among swirling clouds, the other side of roiro lacquer, with falling maple leaves in a shower of rain rendered in gold togidashi, signed Zeshin; 8.2cm (3¼in). Sold for £66,000

月夜夜雨図蒔絵印籠 銘「是真」 明治時代

Provenance: F.A. Richards collection, purchased at Sotheby's London, 1963.
Wrangham collection, no.236.

Published: E.A.Wrangham, The Index of Inro Artists, 1995, p.346, Zeshin, top row, left.

The subtle and unobtrusive composition is not only an extremely refined example of the art of 'shibui' but also a testament to the remarkable artistic and technical prowess of its maker. Originally a Muromachi period term, this is a typically Japanese concept with nuances of meaning which defy precise translation. In a sense shibui is the notion of the artist's ability to convey, in a most perceptive and elegant manner and by great economy of means, the essence of what he wishes to depict and it is aptly demonstrated on the inro presented here by Zeshin.

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A large single-case inro and a kozuka. The inro by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period, the kozuka by Yokoya school, 19th century. Photo: Bonhams

The brownish shibuichi-nuri ground lacquered in relief with a Daigoro sukashi tsuba, pierced with kiku on water, the surface simulating old iron, the reverse with a simulated shibuichi kozuka engraved with Shoki in the manner of the Yokoya school, and a fuchi with a spider's web in Jochiku style, the interior of tan and fundame lacquer, signed Zeshin; 9.3cm (3 5/8in); with silver ojime, cast with plum blossom, signed Ichimin; and lacquered-wood hako-netsuke in the form of a fuchi-gashira, the fuchi engraved with a waterfall, signed Somin with kao, Zeshin; the wood gashira added later; together with a shibuichi kozuka engraved with a complementary design of Shoki with a tiger, inscribed Somin with kao. 9.8cm (3 5/8in). (2). Sold for £38,400
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刀装具図蒔絵印籠 銘「是真」 明治時代
小柄 鐘馗と虎 銘「宗珉(花押)」 19世紀

Provenance: purchased from Barry Davies Oriental Art, London, 1989.
Wrangham collection, no.1976.

Published: The Netsuke Kenkyukai Study Journal, vol.12, no.1, p.31, fig.3.

This inro is an example of Zeshin's ability to reproduce metal surfaces in lacquer, and he demonstrates his skill by simulating a variety of soft-metal alloys as well as iron. Compare with a similarly conceived inro in the Catherine and Thomas Edson collection, in the Exhibition Catalogue, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007, Zeshin, p.40, no.12.

Further highlights included a 19th century iron two-case inro by Hirata Haramusa, inlaid on both sides with irises in cloisonné enamel that sold for £96,000, against a pre-sale estimate of £3,000-3500. An exquisite gold lacquer four-case inro by Kaomi Nagaharu, dated 1852, depicts the Hyakunin Isshu (the Hundred Poets and their Poems) and examples of the poets’ works can be seen on each side. It sold for £60,000, ten times its pre-sale estimate of £5,500- 6,500. An 18th century four-case inro simulating a Chinese ink-cake, with a flaming dragon carving on one sideby Ogawa Haritsu, who was both a famous poet and lacquerer, exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £5,000 – 6,000 to sell for £52,800.

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An iron two-case inro. By Hirata Harumasa, mid 19th century. Photo: Bonhams

Inlaid on both sides with clumps of irises in cloisonné enamel, the interior of silver, signed Hirata Harumasa; with cloisonné enamel ojime; 7.3cm (2 7/8in). Sold for £96,000

燕子花図七宝象嵌鉄印籠 銘「平田春正」 19世紀中期

Provenance: purchased at Sotheby's London, 1977.
Wrangham collection, no.1339.

Published: E.A.Wrangham, The Index of Inro Artists, 1995, p.69, Hirata Harumasa.

Hirata Harumasa was a member of the Hirata family of enamellers who specialised in sword fittings but occasionally worked on inro.

The flower is an emblem of victory as its leaf resembles the blade of a sword. The design and composition is also reminiscent of Ogata Korin's iconic screens in the Nezu Museum in Tokyo, painted with matching patterned forms of irises. The subject is derived from the famous scene in 'Journey to the East' (Azuma-kudari), episode nine of The Tales of Ise, in which Ariwara no Narihira and his followers stop to admire the celebrated eight-fold bridge over an iris pond in the Province of Mikawa.

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A rare gold lacquer four-case inro. By Koami Nagaharu, dated 1852. Photo: Bonhams

Of wide form, bearing a kinji ground, lacquered in gold and slight takamakie with the Hyakunin isshu (the Hundred Poets and their Poems), the poets and examples of their work in straight lines on each side, the interior of nashiji, signed Kosai Hirose Nagaharu sei, dated Kaiei mizunoe-ne shoshu nasu (beginning of Autumn, 1852); 7.8cm (3 1/8in). Sold for £60,000

百人一首図蒔絵印籠 銘「嘉永壬子初秋為 常々齋芋川宗彦大人嘱 耕齋廣瀬永治製」 嘉永5年(1852年)

Provenance: Henri Vever collection, purchased at Sotheby's London, 1973.
Wrangham collection, no.1233.

Exhibited: Treasures of the North, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 2000, no.31, illustrated in the Catalogue, p.239.

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A four-case inro simulating a Chinese ink-cake.. By Ogawa Haritsu (Ritsuo, 1663-1747), 18th century Photo: Bonhams

Of upright form, carved on one side with a flaming dragon and and on the other with inscriptions in relief, signed Ritsuo with seal Kan; 8.2cm (3¼in). Sold for £52,800

龍図古墨意匠印籠 銘「笠翁 觀(方印)」 18世紀

Provenance: Lt.Col J.B.Gaskell collection.
F.A.Richards collection, purchased at Sotheby's London, 1963.
Wrangham collection, no.226.

Exhibited: The Red Cross Exhibition, London, 1915, no.90, Catalogue, illus. pl.XCI.
Treasures of the North, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 2000, no.19, illustrated in the Catalogue p.234.

Published: E.A.Wrangham, The Index of Inro Artists, 1995, p.212, Ritsuo, top row, left.

The inscriptions on the reverse refer to a Chinese Wanli period (1573-1620) book of ancient Chinese ink-cakes by Fang Yulu.

A superb netsuke also found itself within the top ten lots of the sale. An 18th century wooden netsuke of a dog, standing at only 3cm high sold for £38,400. This was created by Masanao, one of the most outstanding carvers of netsuke, showing a finely detailed, compact dog curled up with its head raised slightly.

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A wood netsuke of a dog. By Masanao, Kyoto, late 18th century. Photo: Bonhams

Lying with its head raised and turned to the left, its short tail curled up and its legs drawn in for compactness, the wood slightly worn and bearing a good colour, signed in an oval reserve Masanao; 5.4cm (2 1/8in). Sold for £38,400

木彫根付 犬 銘「正直」 18世紀後期

Provenance: purchased at Sotheby's, 1963.

Published: Bernard Hurtig, Masterpieces of Netsuke Art, p.214, no.905.

Exhibited: Contrasting Styles, London, 1980, no.19, illustrated in the Catalogue, p.17.

**An inro (literally meaning sealed case) is a traditional Japanese case consisting of a stack of small, nested boxes that were used to carry small objects such as seals, tobacco and medicines; the netsuke is a small carving in wood or ivory that keeps the inro securely closed. Japanese men wore traditional Kimono and the inro were worn hanging down from the sash for all to see. After humble beginnings as functional items, between the 17th-19th centuries inro and netsuke were developed by some of Japan’s finest craftsmen into miniature works of art.