Portable tea box with design of 100 flowers and 100 insects
Unryûan Kitamura Tatsuo
Unryūan is today considered as one of Japan's leading contemporary lacquer artists. Working in the tradition of the Koami family, who served the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Edo period, Unryūan’s works preserve on the one hand sophisticated traditional lacquer techniques but are on the other hand imbued with a contemporary sense of aesthetics.
The 'chabako' is created on a wood substrate in the extremely difficult 'yamimakie' technique of black on black lacquer. The ground is a lustrous 'rōiro', black ground, with decoration in 'tsuyakeshi makie', a technique whereby the natural lustre of lacquer is polished back to a matte finish, barely discernible against the reflective black background. A profusion of flowers cradle the surface of the box and interwoven throughout are tiny, fully detailed insects highlighted in gold 'takamakie'.
The design of 100 flowers and 100 insects is based on a tea container by the Edo period lacquer master Hara Yōyūsai (1772-1845), which was originally in the collection of the renowned tea master Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818) and currently in a Japanese private collection. The motif encompasses both spring and autumn, allowing for the interchange of tea utensils according to the taste of the owner and the requirements of the season.
The box contains the implements necessary for an outdoor tea ceremony, usually performed at seasonal outings to enjoy the cherry blossoms in spring or viewing the moon in autumn. Each of the accessories has been created in lacquer using the dry lacquer technique ('kanshitsu') and decorated with diverse lacquer techniques imitating various materials such as ceramics, bamboo or metal. The whole box is a marvellous display of the versatility of Japanese lacquer decoration as well as Unryūan’s unmatched mastery of a wide range of lacquer techniques.
The container for the tea whisk ('chasenzutsu'), for example, is created with a 'kawarinuri' technique that replicates the surface texture and colour of rusted copper. It is decorated with décor of pampas grass in 'takamakie'.
The stand for the lid of the hot water kettle ('chakinzutsu'), is in the form of a stem of young green bamboo completed with nodules.
The incense container ('kōgō'), is a tiny jewel shaped ovoid container lavishly decorated with gold and shell inlay in the technique of the Somada lacquer tradition.
The gourd shaped container for sweets eaten just before receiving the green tea ('furidashi') is a superb example of the ability of lacquer to simulate other materials, in this case, ceramic: thick black ‘glaze’ drips down the side of the container, while the base is covered in terracotta colour lacquer, imitating the unglazed stoneware.
The container for the green tea powder ('natsume'), is a sensual combination of black and crimson lacquer representing the depth of the sunset in autumn. The complex 'tsuyakeshi' technique is again applied to represent flowers and grasses in the shadowy evening light.
The tea bowl ('chawan') is worked in a way to look exactly like a raku tea bowl with hints of red glaze, while the tea scoop ('chashaku') is entirely covered in gold lacquer.
The primary aim of the practice of tea is hospitality to one’s guests and the creation of an atmosphere in which to enjoy beauty – away from the nuisance of everyday life. The host usually goes to great length to carefully select objects and themes in order to achieve this atmosphere. The guest who lifts a dry lacquer tea bowl to drink from will be delighted by the tactile surprise, finding the tea bowl much lighter than its ceramic counterparts. Moreover, he/she can enjoy the great variety of lacquer techniques and decoration on each of the objects. (Text adapted from Lesley Kehoe Galleries catalogue ‘The starting point – historical works of art').
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, June 2011.
Place where the work was made
wood, red and black lacquer, gold and mother-of-pearl inlay
a - Box for tea implements ('chabako'); 15.4 x 11.4 x 14.2 cm
b - Lid of box for tea implements ('chabako'); 3 x 15 x 11 cm
c - Container for tea whisk ('chazenzutsu'); 8.9 x 3.1 cm
d - Lid rest ('chakinzutsu'); 6.5 x 3 cm
e - Incense container ('kōgō'); 4 x 3.7 cm
f - Lid for incense container ('kōgō'); 3.5 cm
g - Sweet container ('furidashi'); 9.7 cm
h - Lid for sweet container ('furidashi'); 0.7 cm
i - Tea container ('natsume'); 4.8 x 7 cm
j - Lid for tea container ('natsume'); 6.7 cm
k - Tea scoop ('chashaku'); 12 x 1.2 cm
l - Tea bowl ('chawan'); 7.4 x 7.9 cm
m - antique textile bag for portable tea box; 20 cm
n - antique textile bag for tea whisk; 12 x 6 cm
o - antique textile bag for lid rest; 9.5 x 5.5 cm
p - antique textile bag for incense container; 4 cm
q - antique textile bag for sweets container; 10 x 6.5 cm
r - antique textile bag for tea container; 8 cm
s - antique textile bag for tea scoop; 13 x 1.7 cm
t - antique textile bag for tea bowl; 11 cm
u - antique textile place mat; 12.5 x 12 cm
v - antique textile place mat; 12.5 x 12 cm
Signature & date
Signed: Unryūan with 'kaō' in gold lacquer in a black reserve on the base of the tea box
Purchased with funds provided by Mrs Pauline Gandel 2011
Not on display
Where the work was made
Referenced in 1 publication
The starting point - Historical Works of Art, Melbourne, 2011.