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A Japanese gold lacquer cabinet with interior drawers with a view of Imperial palace garden, Circa 1830, Late Edo period. Photo courtesy Grace Tsumugi Fine Art.

Cabinet with the First Warbler

A very fine Japanese gold lacquer cabinet worked in gold and silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, nashiji, and kirikane and with details inlaid in gold, silver, and coral with a design based on Chapter 23, ‘Hatsune (The First Warbler)’, of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), depicting a continuous view of a palace garden with ashide (characters hidden in the design), the reverse of the doors depicting an uguisu (warbler or nightingale) on a fence by a blossoming plum tree; the interior containing four drawers with silver handles, decorated in togidashi-e with designs representing the four seasons: cherry blossom on hanabishi (floral lozenges), chidori (‘wave birds’ or plovers) on waves, maple and gingko leaves on kikkō (stylized turtle), and chrysanthemums on hanabishi; with silver mounts and handles. Unsigned; 25.0 × 27.5× 19.0 cm (9 7/8 × 10 7/8 × 7 1/2 in.)

The design of this cabinet is based on the Hatsune no Chōdo, a celebrated set of wedding lacquers completed in 1639. The ashide (hidden characters) are from the following poem from the opening pages of Chapter 23 of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji):

Toshitsuki o / matsu ni hikarete / furuhito ni / kyō uguisu no / hatsune kikaseyo

The old one's eye is / caught by pines reminding her / of passing months and years— / she hopes today she'll hear the song / of spring's first warbler

Grace Tsumugi Fine Art. MasterArt at TEFAF 2014. 14-23 march 2014 - http://www.masterart.com/