An exquisite prunus wood netsuke of ‘Blomhoff’s Dromedaries’ signed Bunpō
Japan, Bunsei-period (1818-1830), circa 1821-1825
 

Lying neatly side by side, each with its head resting on the hump of the other and gazing fixedly and affectionately at each other. Their eyes are inlaid with buffalo horn, and the himotoshi are bored into the underside signed Bunpō.

H. 3.2 x W. 3.7 x D. 3.1 cm

This netsuke was almost certainly inspired by the Dutch import to Nagasaki of two dromedaries in 1821. The arrival of the two camels, a male (8 years old) and a female (7 years old), was a private initiative of Opperhoofd or Chief-Merchant Jan Cock Blomhoff. He wanted to have these exotic animals displayed all over Japan so that his Japanese wife could live a carefree life thanks to the proceeds, even after his return to the Netherlands. The Museum Volkenkunde holds a makimono scroll with many prints and documents related to the two camels, also dated circa 1821-1825 (inv. no. 7029-1).

According to a print on this scroll, we know that the camels could already be admired in Osaka in the 10th month of 1821, an occasion advertised by means of placards or handbills announced. According to a diptych designed by Utagawa Kuniyasu, they can also be seen almost three years later in Edo, near the Ryōgokubashi. It is most likely that Bunpō portrayed the camels in prunus in Edo since he was a highly skilled artist.

From the above, it can already be concluded that the animals aroused the necessary astonishment and that many must have seen the animals, surprised, bewildered, or a combination of these. Fresh news about the newly arrived animals and images of them circulated in the capital Edo as early as 1821. This is apparent, for example, from a New Year's print with an image of one of the animals. Altogether many dozens of documents - apparently collected by someone with great effort and zeal, are on the scroll in the Museum. It is unknown who that was; there is no preface or afterword, but he likely worked from Edo. Whether it was possibly the same person who also published the printed matter is not (yet) known. The same person may have commissioned or purchased this netsuke of the two camels.

The Japanese word for both camel and dromedary is rakuda. The term is homophonous with the concept of comfort; thus, the camel has become associated with conjugal ease.

There is a very similar unsigned netsuke in the famous Bushell bequest at LACMA, illustrated in H. Goodall et al., p. 259. Fuld lists only five netsuke by artists signing Bunpo.

 

Literature:
- G. Wilhelm’s report of the Picard sale, in: Bulletin Association Franco-japonaise, no. 46, p. 41 (ill.)
- Idem, no. 88, p. 43
- Netsuke Kenkyukai Study Journal, 14 /3, p. 46
- Cabinet Portier 100 ans, 1909-2009, p. 122, n° 564

 

Provenance:
- Sale, Picard at the Hotel Drouot, Paris 26th May 1994, lot 97
- Private collection, France
- Sale, Piasa at the Hotel Drouot, Paris 16th December 2004
- Private Collection, France
- With Max Rutherston, ltd.
- Zebregs&Röell, Amsterdam/Maastricht (purchased from the above in 2022)