JAPANESE BAMBOO BASKETS
Flower Basket by Kosuge Kogetsu
for the Japanese Traditional Craft Exhibition
Kosuge Kogetsu / 小菅吼月
Flower basket for the Japanese Traditional Craft Exhibition
49 x 22 x 21 cm
19.3 x 8.7 x 8.3 in
Original box signed and sealed Kogetsu
Original lacquered water container
This basket was made for the Japanese Traditional Craft Exhibition (the Gei-ten) held in November 1960. Kogetsu would later become a judge for the exhibition, an honor bestowed by his peers based on submissions of just such quality. The design and construction of this basket are indeed superior throughout. Kosuge worked until only a few years ago, but his works don’t have the “modern twist” feel of recent decades. He was first and foremost a maker of flower baskets—his works have a classical orientation and erudition.
Here Kosuge presents one of his favored forms, a beautiful teardrop shape that is accentuated with curved handle of unsplit smoked bamboo. The body is double-walled, with exterior surface constructed in a pine needle plait. Nearing the base of the body the pine needle pattern concludes with natural-colored rattan. The naked vertical structure (warp) continues alone. In a pattern of ‘a thousand-lines’ it elevates the body above the foot. The same thousand lines are found at the basket’s upper reaches as well, creating a crown-like raised double rim above the shoulder.
The basket makes skillful use of richly colored menyadake, which is found in its arching handle, double-rim, foot, and vertical stays. This variety of bamboo is most associated with Honma Kazuaki and his son Hideaki, as it is only found in their home Sado Island, just off the coast of Niigata, where Kogetsu lived. These beautiful lengths of menyadake bring color and structure to the basket, as they serve as anchors for the rattan bindings that secure the handle, layers of the body, and base.
Regarding the twill-plaited interior layer, normally it would be difficult to tell much about the material used but in this case Kogetsu left the base of the interior layer relatively open to view. We find that it is made of vertically-split bamboo (a signature Kanto-area technique) which appears to be nemagaridake, the variety of bamboo prized in part for its great flexibility. This is a lovely detail as this relatively roughly-prepared material at the base is transformed as if by magic into the fine twill surface of the interior wall.
The basket has immediate integrity in the hand, and the entire composition is masterful. And in fact, in form, color, and stature, this basket must be understood alongside Iizuka Rokansai's (1890-1959) magnificent basket entitled "Son of the Sun", now a centerpiece of the Abbey Collection of bamboo art located at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Son of the Sun was made circa 1940, as Rokansai entered his 50s. Even with the interruptions due to war, the death of his eldest son and successor, and his own ill health, in following years Rokansai made his most elaborate and eye-catching baskets, including several baskets by invitation to the prestigious Nitten exhibition, one basket by direct commission of the Emperor Showa, and many of the bundled works that seem to exceed the previous boundaries of the medium. In 1940, after a decade of ceaseless activity to establish bamboo basketry as a cultural artform equal to any other in Japan, Rokansai was at full force, widely recognized an artist of such remarkable talent and renown that a basket with such a title, alluding to the Emperor personally, was predestined to be a masterpiece.
Kogetsu, located away from Tokyo but still within its immediate influence, was surely intimately familiar with Rokansai’s basketry (several of Rokansai’s principal clients were located in Niigata), and Kogetsu must have regarded him with some awe. One notes that this flower basket was made in the months immediately following Rokansai’s death; it can only be seen as a tribute to his life and work. Kogetsu, who was not yet 30 years of age, would not have dared to attempt to equal such a magnificent work as Son of the Sun, but the similarities of the two baskets are too many to ignore. The visual and structural use of menyadake is nearly identical, and the recurrence of pine-needle weave and the pattern of rattan at the rim, as well as the entire shape and coloration, are very similar. We can see Kogetsu’s humbly-titled Flower Basket as a statement of deep respect for Rokansai’s great creative integrity and dedication to the artistic path he defined.