A pair of Japanese export lacquered cutlery boxes
Kyoto or Nagasaki, late 18th century
H. 33.5 x W. 24 x D. 21 cm
The bow-fronted boxes with sloping lids flat at the top are made of hinoki wood (Cypress), coated with Japanese paper and decorated in lacquer with scattered gold birds and flowers on a nashiji background. The Japanese mounts are made of copper and both boxes still have the internal partitions to keep the cutlery upright.
The form of these boxes is similar to a pictorial-style knife box in the collection of the Groninger Museum (inv. 1989- 347), dated between 1730 and 1780, but the style of the decoration is more like that on a knife box in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem (inv. E62271), which was brought to Salem by James Devereux, Captain of the Franklin, in 1799.
Henriette Jeane Christine van Neukirchen, called Nyvenheim (1807- 1849) and Nicolaas Johan Steengracht van Oostcapelle (1806-1866), thence by descent to the last owners, Ludolphine Emilie baronesse Schimmelpenninck van der
Oye (1944) married in 1969 to Roland Daniel van Haersma Buma (1944), the last residents of castle Duivenvoorden near Voorschoten and the great-great-granddaughter of Nicolaas Johan Steengracht van Oostcapelle.
There is no evidence that Nicolaas Johan himself, or any of his or his wife’s ancestors had ever been in Japan. However, Nicolaas’ grandfather (Nicolaas Steengracht, 1754-1840) was a director of both the VOC and WIC (West Indies Company) Chambers of Zeeland in Middelburg is known to have collected Chinese porcelain and Japanese lacquer work, so presumably, Nicolaas’ grandfather asked a captain sailing to Deshima or a VOC official on Deshima to order these two cutlery boxes in Japan.