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Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Discussions of carvers, workshops and attributions. A forum to also find help on, or discuss, signatures.
Boredbybach
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 18, 2017 3:55 pm

Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby Boredbybach » Fri Aug 18, 2017 4:56 pm

Hello Everyone,

I have been researching for weeks to try and learn something about these two netsukes that have come into my possession. My collecting focus has been in other areas, so here I am a novice. If anyone could help me identify the artists and time period for these two netsukes, I would appreciate it very much. The pictures are the best I have and I can't I get any other ones right now. I apologize in advance if they are blurry or poorly lit. I would also like to know more information on how to substantiate their age. I read in the US fish and wildlife regulations that family paperwork or photos would suffice to prove that these objects are over 100 years old, but I don't have any of these and I'm not even certain from which branch of the family they came. I have no idea how to prove I inherited them. Any advice you can give me in this area would also be helpful. Thank you in advance.

P.S. The samurai and bear netsuke has some damage to the signature seal and there is a chip off of one of the samurai's feet. I don't believe these are new damages, but they are there.
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jbjtennyo
Posts: 3729
Joined: Fri Jun 06, 2008 8:38 pm
Location: USA

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby jbjtennyo » Sun Aug 20, 2017 1:19 am

Welcome, boredbybach! You have come to the right place to receive honest answers regarding your two netsuke. This is a great forum, if you are interested in collecting, expanding your inherited collection, or just to understand what you have.
Let me give you the bad news first. The bear fighting the samurai is what we here call an NLO, which means Netsuke-Like-Object. It is not from Japan, but some other asian country, perhaps even made of poached ivory in the 20 Century. It is not what collectors of netsuke look for, as these are quick and sloppy carvings meant only for tourist trade. So the damage to this piece doesn't really matter, as it has no real monetary value being an NLO. The only value is that it was inherited.
Now the better news! The man with frogs is a Gama Sennin, one of the immortals in Japanese Fable. I know that, because he is wearing a mugwort cape, (a cape made of mugwort leaves) which is generally seen on all Sennin. He is a Gama Sennin, as he is carved with toads. Supposedly, the immortal found a trapped three legged toad in a well, and rescued him. There after, they were always seen together. If that netsuke is really ivory (and I say if, as I can't find the grain on it on my monitor) it is a very nice carving. However, I would call it a Okimono style netsuke, because of the toads protruding off the top. This would never have been able to be used as a netsuke, as it would have broken fairly quickly, caught on the satin sash, or ruined the satin. I believe it might have been carved very late 19C or early 20C, since it doesn't look as though it was carved for use, but just to admire. (but I am not an expert on age) The detail to the Sennin's face is very nice, and his body is well done too. My opinion is the carver didn't spend enough time on the toads, as they look as though they were more quickly carved, and not given the attention of the Sennin who is very nice I think. I love the humor that I find in this carving, as the Sennin seems to be holding his belly up so that the circle of toads can dance on it!
You need to know if it is really ivory or a molded copy of an ivory piece. I do see age cracks, but the problem is that those are sometimes painted on in order to deceive. I just can't tell that from where I sit. The signature on the Sennin says Gyokuzan. There are a few known carvers that carved under those kanji. I am not with my library right now, and so I can't look it up for you. Perhaps someone else will if theirs is handy.
Can't help you with the documentation. You would have to speak with one of the netsuke dealers or someone more well versed in that area than myself. He is sure cute, and a keeper if he is really ivory!
Last edited by jbjtennyo on Sun Aug 20, 2017 1:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
Judy

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chonchon
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Joined: Wed May 18, 2005 9:16 am
Location: Japan

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby chonchon » Sun Aug 20, 2017 7:41 am

Generally I would agree with Judy above. The Gama Sennin figure has both strengths and weaknesses but is strangely compelling.

For the legend of Kintaro (Sakata no Kintoki) who once fought with a bear, see: http://www.kcpinternational.com/2012/09/kintaro/
Piers

Size is something.

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souldeep
Posts: 3678
Joined: Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:38 pm
Location: London

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby souldeep » Sun Aug 20, 2017 8:08 am

Welcome to the forum Catherine (I can't agree with your forum name - Boredbybach) :)

In today's age for the demand of instant answers, it's rare to see a new poster sat down first, and put some leg work into investigating the items. I for one appreciate the effort you've put into your research. I'm guessing you have a scholarly background :)

On the first signature you noted on paper - Judy provided Gyokuzan as a reading, which is also the most likely. It's could be the same artist as listed in Netsuke by Neil K. Davey, # 472 that refers to a 20thc artist.

Not wanting to confuse you, but the signature can also be read Tamazan, Gyokuyama and Tamayama - none of which are remotely likely.

I think most of what can be said about your two items, has already been said by Judy and Pier's in the posts above.

All this being said, you have certainly come to the right place to learn more about netsuke. I must warn you - it's a thoroughly addictive art form :love:

Do you plan to start learning about and collecting netsuke, or is this just a brief visit to enquire on the two items?
Last edited by souldeep on Sun Aug 20, 2017 8:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Wanted to add a reference to posters choice of username!
Piglet: "Pooh?" Pooh: "Yes, Piglet?" Piglet: "I've been thinking..." Pooh: "That's a very good habit to get into to, Piglet." - A.A. Milne.

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NetsukeManiac
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Joined: Mon Aug 09, 2010 3:05 am
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby NetsukeManiac » Sun Aug 20, 2017 8:14 am

Delicate and protruding parts of these carvings preclude them from being useful netsuke.

Boredbybach
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 18, 2017 3:55 pm

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby Boredbybach » Tue Aug 22, 2017 5:43 pm

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. You have helped me very much. I just want a little clarification re: the NLO. Have there always been NLO's? According to my family information, these netsukes came into the family sometime in the late 19th c/early 20th c. Since no other netsukes have come down through the family, I believe that the original buyer had little expertise in this area. Very possibly he bought a fake or simply a souvenir or two and got lucky with the one and not so much with the other. Does that sum things up pretty well? I have family members who need to know more about these figures along with rough price estimates. Thank you again for your assistance.

Boredbybach
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 18, 2017 3:55 pm

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby Boredbybach » Tue Aug 22, 2017 5:50 pm

Thank you for your insight and warm welcome. This visit is a short one. I used to work in an auction that dealt with netsukes pretty regularly and have always admired them. Unfortunately, the difficulty in proving a netsuke's age, provenance and attribution, as well as the high cost of purchasing one is more than enough to scare me away from collecting these little gems.

Thank you again for your time and help.

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souldeep
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Joined: Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:38 pm
Location: London

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby souldeep » Wed Aug 23, 2017 5:51 am

Hi Catherine,

Thank you for the replies. Here is a link to read up on NLO's viewtopic.php?f=12122&t=7940207

Whilst we think the first netsuke you shared is late 19th, at the very earliest, it doesn't fit into the NLO category. NLO's are generally considered carved outside Japan, and easily identifiable as such.

Japan, during the Meji period, had demand from the West for all sorts of export arts. At that time many netsuke where carved to suit western tastes. These are occasionally called export, rather than NLO. There are many collectors of these export wares, some of which, are incredibly fine pieces of work.

I mentioned a possible reference to a 20thc carver in Davey, that carved under the same name. Without examples of this carver, I would struggle to provide any more information than I have provided.

I'm afraid we do not provide valuations on this forum. However you could visit any of the INS listed dealers ( https://www.netsuke.org/page-1126678 ) and enquire into a valuation from one of them.
Piglet: "Pooh?" Pooh: "Yes, Piglet?" Piglet: "I've been thinking..." Pooh: "That's a very good habit to get into to, Piglet." - A.A. Milne.

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souldeep
Posts: 3678
Joined: Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:38 pm
Location: London

Re: Identification help for two ivory netsukes, please.

Postby souldeep » Wed Aug 23, 2017 5:55 am

R. E. collecting these little gems. Cost is relative to ones pocket of course, but a number of INS recommended dealers offer honest and affordable netsuke for well under the $1k mark. With study and patience, the budget conscious collector can build a collection of interesting netsuke :)
Piglet: "Pooh?" Pooh: "Yes, Piglet?" Piglet: "I've been thinking..." Pooh: "That's a very good habit to get into to, Piglet." - A.A. Milne.


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