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.
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.
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.