Decorated in gold, silver and black hiramaki-e, takamaki-e, kirikane, kimpun, with inlays of solid gold and silver against a black ground with hirame, with a pheasant perched on a gnarled pine tree, the inside of the cover with a farming village set amongst hills beside a waterfall cascading through rocks down towards rice fields and a shoreline, thatched dwellings to the lower left, three descending geese overhead, all against a dense nashiji ground, fitted with a slate inkstone, the reverse with incised inscription Kenkon seiseki Nakamura Chobei [Nakamura Chobei, the purest stone in the universe] and kakihan, and copper-gilt water dropper in the form of a zither (koto), two fitted inner trays decorated with geese in flight above trees and rocks
23 x 21.5 x 4.5 cm. (9 x 812 x 134 in.)
Thomas E. Waggaman Collection.
George D. Pratt Collection.
Charles A. Greenfield Collection.
Eskenazi Ltd., London.
Christie's, London, Netsuke and Lacquer from the Japanese Department of Eskenazi Limited, 17th November 1999, Lot 12.
H. Shugio (ed.), Catalogue of a Collection of Oriental Art Objects Belonging to Thomas E. Waggaman of Washington D.C., (New York, 1896), no. 1136.
American Art Galleries, Thomas E. Waggaman Collection, (New York, 1905), no. 420.
Harold P. Stern, The Magnificent Three: Lacquer, Netsuke and Tsuba, (New York, 1972), no. 60 (Boxes).
Andrew J. Pekarik, Japanese Lacquer, 1600-1900: Selections from the Charles A. Greenfield Collection, (New York, 1980), no. 15, figs. 24-26.
Eskenazi Ltd., The Charles A. Greenfield Collection of Japanese Lacquer, (London, 1990), no. 15, p. 50.
Japan House Gallery, New York, The Magnificent Three: Lacquer, Netsuke and Tsuba, Selections from the Collection of Charles A. Greenfield, 1972.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET), New York, Japanese Lacquer, 1600-1900: Selections from the Charles A. Greenfield Collection, 1980.
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Lot Essay

A lone pheasant endures a snowy winter’s night perched on a tall rock before two entwined pine trees. The majority of the composition is decorated with a blizzard of gold flakes individually set against the black lacquer ground. Early court poetry has often commented on how pheasants are found in pairs or groups during the day, but separate at night; this tendency prompting poets to associate the bird with loneliness.

The interior is contrastingly decorated with a village beside autumnal rice fields: a scarecrow overlooks the ripe, wind-tossed stalks, thatched farmer’s dwellings are tucked beside rocks and bamboo, and the slope of the mountainside where a stream flows into an irrigation channel for the crops present a scene of harvest time. Paired with a water dropper (suiteki) in the form of a zither (koto), it has been suggested that the rural landscape tousled by an autumn wind alludes to a poem composed by Ki no Tsurayuki (872-945) compiled in the Poetry Collection of Elegance (Fuga wakashu):

As the autumn wind
tunes the sound of the pine trees
to my koto’s notes
does it also gently pluck
the streams of the waterfall?

Matsu no oto o
koto ni shiraburu
akikaze wa
taki no ito
yasugete hiku

The name Chobei inscribed to the reverse of the inkstone was used by the Nakumura family of inkstone carvers, established as craftsmen for the shogunate throughout the Edo period.

When first published, this fine suzuribako was in the possession of the Washington real estate broker and auctioneer Thomas E. Waggaman, part of whose collection had earlier been catalogued by the celebrated British-American New York art dealer Edward Greey (1835-1888). Other works from Waggaman's collection are in the Denys Eyre Bower collection in Chiddingstone Castle, Kent.

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