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Crown-shaped Handled Flower Basket by Tanabe Chikuunsai II

Tanabe Chikuunsai II / 二代田辺竹雲斎 
Crown-shaped Handled Flower Basket
33.5 x 22.5 x 22.5 cm
13.2 x 8.6 x 8.6 in
Original box signed and sealed by the artist

Tanabe Chikuunsai II was probably the most well-known bamboo artist in the Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe) area in decades following the war. His major works in these years were regularly included in prestigious national exhibitions. They are also featured in contemporary exhibitions such as Lines and Shapes, Lines and Spaces: The Bamboowork of Iizuka Rokansai and Tanabe Chikuunsai (Musee Tomo; Kikuchi Foundation, 2018).

In the heart of his career, Chikuunsai II produced many excellent works in two signature plaiting styles: mat-plaiting and this mesh-like hexagonal weave. Both are based on meticulously processed delicate lengths of madake. Chikuunsai II shaped these fine lengths into many imaginative new forms, such as this unusual shape, or used them to reimagine well-established forms, such as gourds, kokeshi dolls, or classical Chinese tsubo. In either plait, one nearly completely opaque, the other gorgeously translucent, these baskets have a fresh modern feel, and an approachability that was certainly also a key ingredient in this artist's lasting success.

This crown-shaped basket was originally sold in 1958 at Chikuunsai II’s exhibition at the Takashimaya department store, held 27 May-1 June of that year. Throughout the 20th century, Takashimaya was a prestigious venue for living artists in many media. Takashimaya exhibitions in the early 1920s were a critical support for the young Kawai Kanjiro (see our Ceramics page). The personal collection of one Takashimaya manager, Kenichi Kawakatsu, later donated to the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, is still the foremost in the world.

Chikuunsai II and others certainly must have looked forward to the special prestige--and income--these annual exhibitions provided. While he would have welcomed individual commissions for flower baskets, there were precious few other opportunities to display as many as 40 individual pieces to a wide public audience. The 'Takashimaya' works by Chikuunsai II we find today are typically of this general kind: modest-sized, finely-worked, modern, sculptural forms made especially for ikebana practitioners always seeking novel vessel forms. This basket seems to have seen little actual use as a flower vessel, however, as it is in as good condition today as it was on the day purchased almost 62 years ago.

For a mat-plaited version of this basket, see the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, cat. no. 2006.3.552. That basket, slightly larger and darker in color, is dated 1924 by the museum, but is almost certainly made after this one, perhaps in the late 1960s or 1970s.

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