JAPANESE BAMBOO BASKETS
Suisen no Hana (Narcissus Flower) by Iizuka Rokansai
Iizuka Rokansai / 飯塚琅玕斎
Suisen no Hana, (Narcissus Flower)
Dated Taisho 14/15 (1924-25)
30.5 x 19 x 19 cm
11.8 x 7.5 x 7.5 in
Original box signed and sealed by Rokansai
Original lacquered water container
This basket appears to be the earliest known dated work of Iizuka Rokansai. The inscription on the box indicates that it was made in Taisho year of the snake/cow, or Taisho 14/15. Since the basket's title is Narcissus Flower, which in Japan flowers in the middle of winter, we can understand that it was made in the winter months at the turn of 1924 to 1925.
Interestingly, this very early Rokansai has a partner found in the NAEJ Collection. Appearing as Plate 207 in Baskets: Masterpieces of Japanese Bamboo Art 1850-2015 (A+C VWG, nd) the basket titled Lotus Seed (Hasu no Mi) is signed on bottom by Rokansai and dated Summer 1925. It is a near perfect match for this one.
These two baskets, made six months apart, one in winter and the other in summer, call the attention of any Rokansai enthusiast. Aside from works created for special exhibitions later in life, Rokansai rarely dated his works, and he rarely, if ever, made two so nearly identical works. About five additional baskets with similar (approximate) dates appear in Iizuka Rokansai: Master of Modern Bamboo Crafts (Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, 1989). Rokansai would have then been in his early thirties and only recently working under his personal artist name, rather than the name of his elder brother Hosai II (1872-1934).
It is interesting to note that first works attributed directly to Rokansai are relatively familiar mingei-inspired works. Soon he would begin to redefine the field itself, nearly singlehandedly transforming one of the most ancient human arts. These two baskets, Narcissus Flower and Lotus Seed, winter and summer, stand slightly apart from the more familiar forms of this early period, however. Their poetic titles and easy-breathing form, understated and yet complex at the same time, draw us in. Looking more closely at this basket one finds that it is made not of single lengths of madake, as appears to be the case at first, but instead of layers of very finely split bamboo which was then stacked in its original order. As a consequence, the basket appears rigid to the eye, but is actually gently flexible in the hand. It is the kind of subtle and seemingly effortless complexity that portends the Rokansai to come.