JAPANESE BAMBOO BASKETS

Flower Basket by Yamamoto Chikuryusai I

YAMAMOTO Chikuryusai I / 山本竹龍斎

1868-1945

Bamboo Flower Basket

Winter 1919

35 x 31.5 x 32 cm

13.8 x 12.4 x 12.6 in

Original box signed and sealed by the artist,

dated "Taisho year of the Snake and Sheep"

Original lacquered water container

Bamboo is the largest of all the grasses, but bamboo baskets rarely elicit the image of grass. The golden color and open space of this basket bring dried natural grasses to mind, and even the thought of grass baskets, and nests. Especially within the Kansai area (the principle commercial region of Western Japan, centering on Osaka) such naturalistic baskets are usually made of dark smoked bamboo—they often have a gnarled intensity. Artists in the region made comparatively few baskets of this light natural grass-color, and one welcomes the opportunity to admire the agility and even modern feel it brings to this generous example, made 101 years ago.

 

Yamamoto Chikuryusai was a remarkable scholar-aesthete. Also trained in painting, singing, flower arrangement and tea ceremony, for decades he was an influential elder figure in the cultural field surrounding bamboo art. His baskets were the first to gain both national and international recognition, and he played a central role in articulating bamboo art as we know it today.

 

Chikuryusai specialized in interpretations or adaptations of the Chinese style of baskets most esteemed in tea circles. These antique baskets were like texts for Chikuryusai, who faithfully and assiduously reproduced their technique and look, and even their feel (see his Ryurikyo Style Flower Basket).

 

Chikuryusai began submitting his baskets to national exhibitions as early as the 1890s. He represented Japan in the foundational series of international art exhibitions beginning with the International Exposition of Modern and Decorative Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925, followed by the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, and the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Chikuryusai may be the sole artist in any medium to receive special awards in each of those exhibitions.

 

In 1929 bamboo baskets by Chikuryusai and Sakaguchi Sounsai (1899-1967) were the first to be included in the single-most prestigious national Teiten exhibition. Their presence was an important accomplishment for these two artists, and an important event for bamboo art in general. It was certainly a turning point for Chikuryusai, as in the very same year he passed his artist-name to his eldest son, who became Chikuryusai II. The elder took Shoen as his new artistic name.

 

Few bamboo artists achieve such national stature, and yet one finds comparatively few of Chikuryusai’s significant baskets, especially those made in the Japanese style. In these works we see another side of his character, a free-flowing grace that must have been well known within his aesthetic milieu. Untethered from previous examples, his naturalistic works are inevitably of fine composition and balance, and exquisitely understated sophistication.