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Artist Spotlight and a Giveaway…Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print

UKIYO-E

I’ve been down and out with a bit of a stomach bug the last few days but luckily I’ve had Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print which has been eminently digestible. Harris was a fifty year plus veteran of life in Japan, having come there after serving in the Korean War and staying on to pursue his artistic ambitions. I was lucky enough to know him through the Tokyo American Club before he passed away in 2010.

Ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese prints, have existed since before the 17th century but truly flowered during the Edo period (1603-1868). They were mass-produced and created for mass-consumption by the common man – in effect the postcards and the Instagrams of the day. A four-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together to produce these images of ‘the floating world’ – impermanent places of pleasure. Geisha and courtesans, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, were all common subjects, along with landscape series, flora and fauna and the more unusual shunga (erotic prints) and Yokohama-e (prints with foreigners). Illustrated with only the choicest selections, Harris’s book arranges them by subject rather than chronology or artist, breaking down what can be a very confusing area of work, and highlighting the key issues and players.

He neatly spells out the three great H’s of Japanese scenic prints, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui, spanning a 100 year period. I was not that familiar with Hokusai’s waterfall series which while not as famous as his Mount Fuji series, Harris believed to be his masterpieces. “They are the most contemporary of all his compositions, embracing abstract qualities that do not appear in world art until the twentieth century.” I think he has a point there! Harris highlights the dynamism of what is – in theory – a landscape print by Hiroshige by wondering where the viewer would actually have to be standing to view this Boy’s Day carp streamer. And in Hasui’s shin hanga print, designed to appeal to a Western customer, with its romantic and nostalgic views of Japan, we see a level of craftsmanship and emotional content not seen before. To really appreciate the details, be sure to click and enlarge the images.

Hokusai Hiroshige Hasui

(1) Katsushika HOKUSAI, Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1832, (2) Utagawa HIROSHIGE, Sudo bridge and Surugadai, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-58, (3) Kawase HASUI, Snow at Mukojima 1931

Harris is sure to include a chapter on ukiyo-e books, an area that is both dear to my heart and often overlooked. From simple but powerful sumi ink illustrations by the ‘father” of ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu, in the 1650s to delicate asymmetrical compositions from Watanabe Seitei influenced by European paintings after the turn of the 20th century, Harris’s book is full of numerous rare images from the author’s collection.

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei's Bird and Flower Album) 1916

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei’s Bird and Flower Album) 1916

The final chapter is on Yokohama-e, prints about foreigners in Japan and the way in which Japanese artists imagined and portrayed them. Other than the Dutch, who were kept at far arms length, Japan was effectively closed to foreigners from the 1630s until the mid 19th century, until Commodore Perry and the Treaty of Kanagawa forced the opening of the country to outsiders. By far the most interesting image for me in this chapter is Utagawa Yoshitora’s Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji from 1870. Normally a triptych (three sheet print image) I have cropped it to two for a bit of comparison. In it we see a few Western women, in quite accurate dress for 1870, watching the launch of an exciting technical invention new to Japan – the hot air balloon.

Yoshitora Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji

Utagawa YOSHITORA, Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji, 1870

Besides being fascinated by this era in Japanese history and the cross-fertilization happening, I have also had the luck to have seen and held two of the three panels of this print in my hands. Take a few moments to really examine and compare these photos and see if you can find the fascinating major differences, besides some of the obvious coloring in the dresses, between them.

Yoshitoa Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy

These images give you a real sense of the complexity of learning about and collecting ukiyo-e as many of the most popular prints went through multiple printings and sometimes continue to be printed today. Harris makes excellent points about getting educated and using your eye and common sense when buying. Remember, if it is in absolute perfect condition and a bargain, most likely it’s a modern-day reprint.

So? What did you spot? Did you notice how all the flags on the balloons were changed from Japanese flags to American flags? According to Wikipedia, the Japanese officially decreed the Nisshōki or Hinomaru (sun flag) as the national emblem in 1870, although it was already accepted as the de facto flag of Japan. The print itself is from 1870, which makes the timing quite interesting. In all the other examples of this print in museum collections around the world, the flags are American as in my example. Harris’s example is courtesy of the Mita Arts Gallery, a very respected ukiyo-e gallery in Japan. I may have to write to them and see if they have more information. What else?  The seals and stamps are quite different – if anyone’s Japanese is good enough to shed some light on them it would be very appreciated. Other small details include the stairs and walkway in the lawn in the background and the gazebo shape in the trees. I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will spot many more!

Now on to the good part – the GIVEAWAY!! Tuttle Publishing has kindly offered 2 copies of Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print for me to offer to my readers. They will send them anywhere in the world, so everyone can enter. All you need to do is comment on this post, ideally after visiting Tuttle Publishing online and taking a look at their outstanding offerings in Art, Architecture & Design, with a real focus on Asia, and telling me what other books you’d like to see me discuss (and possibly have available for future giveaways :-))

The giveaway closes a week from tomorrow on Friday, September 19 at midnight EST. Winners will be announced the following week.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints
An Artistic Reflection…The 1860 Japanese Envoy to America and Yokohama-e
Artist Spotlight…Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist
Artist Spotlight…Dancers, Degas and the Demi-Monde in Yokohama
Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism
Battledores and Badminton…A History Of Hanetsuki Through Ukiyo-e
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns

photo

The items I get inquiries about all the time are my vintage Japanese filigree globe fixtures. The pierced brass scrolling arabesque pattern, known as karakusa, which appears everywhere in Japanese decorative arts, from porcelain to textiles and more, creates the most playful shadows on the ceilings and walls at night.

The largest of these globes that I have seen is this 18 inch diameter one now hanging in my Doha living room with its lovely high ceilings. It lived in a box in Tokyo as none of the rooms had ceilings high enough to accommodate it. That story can be found here.

doha living room

I’ve never been able to source the original maker and the fixtures themselves are unmarked but I would confidently date them to the post war period around 1950. Other dealers seem to make the same assumption, although I occasionally see them listed as 19th century or art deco, but that is incorrect. These modern fixtures take their cues from the ceremonial lanterns found at Japanese shrines and temples in terms of their pierced design work, but the round globes are a simplified modern form, quite different from those more ornate lantern shapes – often hexagonal or even octagonal. That said, I have sold a few hexagonal versions that take their cues more literally from the old shapes. No examples to show here as those lights are awaiting installation in clients’ homes, but I will share when they are ready. I don’t know if the globes were used as temple lamps or made for personal home use (I highly suspect the latter), but perhaps one of my readers will.

japanese temple lanterns

Over the last few years I have noticed them popping up all of a sudden on the internet, from Emily Henderson‘s LA shopping haul, where she found one identical to mine…

brass karakusa chandelier from emily henderson LA shopping

…and subsequently hung in the entry of her old house. I haven’t seen it anywhere in her new house so I am wondering what may have happened to it. You’ll notice that this globe is the same giant size as mine and she has had to semi-flush mount it, instead of hanging it from a chain, as the ceiling height is too low. It looks a bit awkward like that, don’t you think? Both of our fixtures have their original hanging cap and O-ring, but sometimes over the years those get lost.

emily henderson house brass karakusa fixture

Like me, Emily chose not to polish it much and kept the patina, unlike this highly shined one sold on Etsy. The seller used the horrible come-to-mean-anything-and-nothing terms ‘Hollywood Regency’ and ‘Moroccan Modern’ when this fixture is absolutely neither. You’ll notice this one still has its rice paper lining, unlike mine or Emily’s.

karakusa globe via a storied style

The fixture above seems to be a mid-size version (it’s listed as having a 14 inch diameter), but definitely made by the same maker. I’ve shown you my small size pair (9 inch diameter) that I found at a shrine sale before and now one hangs in our stairwell in Doha. You’ll notice how having the rice paper lining creates a completely different effect at night, casting no magical shadows but highlighting the detail of the pattern.

brass karakusa globe lantern pair resized

I can’t resist showing these two Katie Ridder rooms again either, as each uses a pierced brass globe to great effect in the bedroom. The one on the left has a floral pattern added to the scrolling vines.

Katie Ridder japanese pendant lamp in guest room ED0306 and girls room

There is a plethora of shapes and sizes available right now on 1st dibs, including this one from Downtown at Profiles identical to mine for a whopping $4200. They also have a midsize one available, and both have been fitted with triple bulbs as opposed to the usual single. Both are missing their original hanging caps and loops.

japanese brass globe lantern 1stdibs

Another 1stdibs dealer called Duo has a series of trios available (from $4200-$5800), including this 11.5 inch diameter group and this 9 inch diameter group. You’ll note they both have their original hanging caps and rings, although the latter are different in style. I find larger fixtures came with the more half-loop shaped style on the left and smaller fixtures have the upside down vee-shaped loop as on the right.

karakusa brass lamp trios

Duo also has this wild and unusual mismatched group, which includes a barrel-shaped fixture adorned with an imperial chrysanthemum and an egg-shaped one with ume (plum blossoms) in addition to the standard karakusa globe. I am fascinated that in the couple of days since I started writing this post and noticed these trios for sale, all three sets are on hold, so clearly a buyer is choosing between them or perhaps a designer is planning on using all of them for a commercial project.

trio of karakusa fixtures

Also worth looking at is this wacky three ball fixture with cracked ice and ume pattern here on Etsy, although it is sold. And if you are looking to buy a karakusa globe and your budget isn’t up for these prices, there is a lovely one available from Kodo Arts in Kyoto on Trocadero with its cap, hanging loop and rice paper intact for $1400. Or just drop me a comment or a note and I’ll add you to my waiting list :-)

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do
Katie Ridder, Eat Your Heart Out (Over My Latest Shrine Sale Find)

Form Versus Function…Apothecary Chest in the Kitchen

apothecary closeupAlthough I am back in Doha there are some summer things I can’t seem to get off my mind. Work on the beach house, mainly the exterior (more on that next week), will be happening while we are away this year. I figured the unexpected outside work would use up all the kitchen renovation money we had been hoarding, but in that magical way that bundling multiple projects tends to make each individual project much less expensive (at least in terms of the contractors’ fees) I find it may just be possible to do both. On that note, I saw a beautiful apothecary/shop/printers cabinet at one of my favorite local antique stores this summer. The color and the patina were just lovely, the size was right and even better, so was the price. It had just the kind of feel I want for the kitchen, evident in past posts and a few Pinterest boards (here and here). The only problem with it is a lack of functionality. Thirty-two tiny drawers don’t hold much, now do they?

There are a host of kitchens out in the stratosphere that feature an apothecary style or shop counter style piece as a center point in the kitchen. A few spring right to mind, including this one…

chinese-apothocary-drawers-kitchen-remodelista

…and this one. Both have been pinned endlessly and would be perfect spaces in our beach cottage. But what both of these kitchens have going for them that you can’t tell from the photos is that they are in very large rooms and offer just adjunct storage and workspace. It doesn’t hurt that the drawers are actually quite a bit larger and somewhat useful.

apothecary shop counter

The same holds true for one of my be all and end all kitchens, written about extensively before, that belonged to Peri Wolfman and Charles Good. Their Soho loft kitchen (and eponymous shop) sparked a revolution in kitchen design. They used a large shop counter as a divider, but as you see, space was never an issue.

Peri Wolfman loft kitchen via NYT

This grainy photo from Pinterest gives you a closer view. Sorry, my scanner is down, so I can’t offer a better picture.

peri wolfman soho ny kitchen shop counter

So back to my cabinet. Here it is in all its simple glory. Yes, I know the knobs are not original (you can see the old tack holes of the original handles) but they have certainly been on there for quite some time and I think they are adorable. Yes, I know the bottom left hand drawer is painted a darker color, but that seems to be part of its charm.

vintage  apothecary style cabinet photo

In order to get opinions, its important to see the space where the cabinet would go. Voila! We had been planning to get rid of a piece of cabinetry in this spot in lieu of a small island, but the chest above is narrow enough that it could work. We could also put a larger top on it and use it as the island itself. I think to truly understand the space it would probably help to read earlier posts on the kitchen renovation, like this one and this one, but imagine dark wood floors, gray, white marble, natural brass.

IMG_1545 beach kitchen

So? What say you all? Form or function? Should I just buy it for insurance either way? I will tell you I have a very large pantry in the kitchen and some of the existing cabinets are not at all full.

For an incredible look at one of the most creative uses of an antique shop counter used in a kitchen, be sure to click over to Steve’s blog An Urban Cottage. Some of the best posts can be found here, here, here and here, but his whole blog is terrific!

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 4…Full Reno Inspiration
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally
What’s Cooking? Peri Wolfman’s Kitchens Through the Years and That Marble-Topped Bakers Table
Still Dreaming of a French Marble Bakers Table
Ingenious Repurposing…Unusual Kitchen Islands and Printers Drawers
My Kitchen Island is Back on the Table
Opportunity Knocks…Shopping, Storing and Saving Stuff for Later
Other Posts in the Form Versus Function Kitchen Series

Updates on an Oldate…Beach House Bathroom

Some finishing touches happened this week on one of the earliest projects I took on here, the downstairs bathroom renovation. Long planned, Mally Skok‘s gorgeous and utterly perfect fabric Nichola in Aqua/Sand on Canvas went up as a Roman shade on the window. I have long adored this fabric and in this space it reads like bits of coral and sea life.

mally skok nichola roman shade

There’s not really anything left to do in this space – finishing touches aside. I still can’t quite figure out where to put or hang the toilet paper.

beach house bathroom mally skok nichola

The brass has all been patinating very well. I could not be more pleased with having chosen unlacquered brass and the exposed shower workings shine like jewelry through the glass doors.

beach house bathroom shower

The sink faucet is also looking great, although as I showed in my last post, the sink bowl not so much. I’ve been reading up on reglazing and porcelain home repair kits but I am still really unsure of what to do about this.

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

There is still a bit of room for finds – and certainly more sand dollars and shells – on the display shelves. With my iphone there was no way to get the upper ledge of kashigata in the photo, but the patterns in them look wonderful with Mally’s fabric.

beach house bathroom shelves

I do have one little marriage to make, between this Japanese print and vintage frame, and then its simply a matter of placement.

japanese print and frame

I think we can call this one finished, don’t you?

Related Posts:
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom
Renovation Report…Do You Throw Good Money After Bad? Thoughts on Fixing My Master Bathroom
Freshening Formal Furniture With Mally Skok Fabric

Mid-Summer at the Shore

montana purple sunset

Sometimes you just need a full on vacation. For the first time in four years I took one – from the blog, from social media (well, there was a bit of instagramming), from the kitchen renovation that’s just not quite getting off the ground, from everything. I took a physical one as well, traveling out to Flathead Lake in Montana with 27 other members of our family for a week of kicking back, riding horses and extraordinary sunsets. But the net result of the relaxing is that here we are at mid-summer and there is much to do and much to fill you in on.

An absolutely brutal winter here on the East Coast left gardens decimated. Mine fared better than most, but everything still suffered, most importantly the hydrangeas which bloom on the previous years’ wood. Unlike some neighbors, mine survived, but had very few flowers – no comparison with last year or even the year before!

beach house hydrangea summer 2014

The new Aleppo (Leila) inlaid tables from Serena & Lily (which arrived after we had left last summer) look amazing in the master bedroom.

beach house master bedroom inlaid night tables

A few local finds and a change of vintage duvet have been keeping things fresh.

beach master bedroom inlaid serena lily nightstands

I tried out a beautiful silk lampshade made from a vintage sari – Robert Kime style – from Xenomania in the East Village, but it was too big and matchy-matchy. By luck, I stopped into Just Shades on Spring Street on the day I was bringing it back and walked out with the perfect simple green shade instead, for about a tenth of the cost.

master bedroom lampshades

With my mind on the move to Doha, I never shared a few of the things that got accomplished right at summer’s end last year. The Bennison ticking trimmed valances in my elder daughter’s room, for example, which came out more beautifully than I could have imagined…

Bennison lilac ticking trimmed valence

…or the sweet art wall developing in the blue hall bathroom.

beach house blue bathroom art wall

It’s more than a year later and I am still kicking myself for passing up a $15 wicker headboard at a garage sale for my younger daughter’s bedroom. That’s all she needs, along with something like this Maine style pine painted cottage dresser. If you see either on Craig’s list or at your favorite shop, be sure to let me know!

wicker headboard Maine cottage pine painted dresser

Local antique stores here haven’t been as rich with goodies as normal and many have gone under, their land being redeveloped into condos or strip malls. I find it depressing but the truth is that the house needs very little outside of these few specific pieces so it hasn’t been a personal tragedy. I have stumbled into a new shop I quite liked, finding a great pair of 1855 Morris Gull prints (which will probably be added to the blue bathroom art wall)…

1855 Morris Ivory Ross Gull print engraving

…as well as an amazing antique lidded Seto porcelain dish (because of course, as one Instagram friend put it, I need MORE blue and white porcelain)…

antique Japanese Seto blue white porcelain dish lid

…and a salvaged mantel shelf that might be perfect for over the stove in the upcoming kitchen renovation (which hopefully will get started).

vintage antique mantle shelf

At the end of the day, the house here is so tiny that even an extra chair can’t fit. Found this diminutive charmer at my Brooklyn favorite Fork & Pencil, but it is going to have to make its way to a client’s house. There is simply nowhere to put it!

Fork & pencil brooklyn chair

And speaking of chairs, I’ve seen a pair of bergères her in New Jersey that look like they might be worth shipping back to Doha to replace the ones so unceremoniously taken from me.

vintage bergere NJ antiques

On a negative note, my vintage sink in the downstairs bath developed a rust bubble over the winter. I am in desperate need of advice on how I might repair/reglaze it. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

I’ll be looking for more input on upcoming posts, including major decisions needed on new exterior paint colors. I’ll also be having a giveaway for a beautiful book on ukiyo-e by Fred Harris. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your summer!

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