Archive for the ‘Japanese art’ Category

Asian heirlooms

May 25, 2016
The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, is a creation of the early 1750s, as William Windham II was remodeling the house with the help of architect James Paine. It was then called the Bow Window Dressing Room.

Close up of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg House, Norfolk

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752, NT 1400532. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese wallpaper was supplied by Paine in 1751  – it is identical to the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, where he was also involved – and hung by the London paper-hanger John Scrutton in the spring of 1752.

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One of the mahogany armchairs in the Chinese style at Felbrigg Hall, part of a group of six, NT 1398493.1 – NT 1398493.6. ©National Trust/Sue James

Windham grumbled about the cost of hiring a London specialist, ‘at 3s.6d per diem while at Felbrigg & 6d per mile traveling charges, which I think a cursed deal.’ But looking at the careful cutting and pasting of the wallpaper, condensing or stretching it to make it fit the room, it is clear that this required a high degree of skill and design sense.

A 1771 inventory mentions six mahogany Chinese-style English armchairs in this room, with fretwork backs and armrests, and these are still in the house today. The fire-screen in the room, listed as having been decorated with ‘India paper’ – a Chinese picture or fragment of wallpaper – is now gone, but a similar example survives at Osterley Park.

The Cabinet Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Japanese lacquer cabinet, late seventeenth century, at Felbrigg Hall, NT1398387. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The ‘very fine India cabinet, brown and gilt’ also listed in the Bow Window Dressing Room is still in the house, albeit in a different room. It is in fact a Japanese lacquer cabinet, decorated with herons in relief against a background of transparent lacquer showing the grain of the wood. It dates from the late seventeenth century and may have come to Felbrigg in the time of Windham’s grandfather, William Windham I, who built the west front of the house in the 1680s.

In rebuilding Felbrigg William II showed an antiquarian sensibility, respecting the earlier parts of the building. The same attitude is evident inside, as he combined the newly fashionable Chinese wallpaper with his family’s older Asian heirlooms.

A Japanese sculpture at Dyffryn

August 27, 2015
Detail of a bronze sculpture of a man riding an ox, possibly Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), possibly by Takamura Kōun (1852-1934), at Dyffryn gardens, NT 1682811. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of a bronze sculpture of a man riding an ox, possibly Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), possibly by Takamura Kōun (1852-1934), at Dyffryn gardens, NT 1682811. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

As I was looking at images of Dyffryn Gardens while writing my previous post, I was reminded of the intriguing Japanese bronze sculpture situated in front of the house. It depicts a man dressed in traditional Japanese traveling costume sitting on the back of an ox, reading a book as he is carried along.

Back view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Back view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

A while ago I asked Menno Fitski, an expert on Japanese art and curator at the Rijksmuseum, who this figure might be. He suggested it could be Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), a Japanese scholar and courtier. When Michizane’s enemies managed to get him expelled from court a faithful ox carried him into exile. He was later worshiped as a patron of scholars and  deity of calligraphy.

Front view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Front view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Menno suggested the sculptor might be Takamura Kōun (1852-1934) or someone from his circle. Kōun worked to preserve traditional Japanese woodcarving skills during the turbulent Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan was rapidly modernising and subject to western cultural influences. However, Kōun also made sculptures in bronze. Large-scale bronze figures from this period combined the western conventions of public sculpture with traditional Japanese subject matter.

This sculpture was donated to Dyffryn gardens by Grenville Morgan in 1951. Although its introduction post-dates the ownership of Dyffryn by the Cory family, it suits the Edwardian atmosphere of the garden, with its many Japanese trees and plants.

We would welcome comments either confirming that this sculptural group is by Kōun or suggesting another possible artist.