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A Japanese export lacquer tripod table with feet shaped as bats

Nagasaki, 1850-1860

H. 73 x diam. 108 cm

The six-lobbed top is decorated with reverse-painted mother-of-pearl in a sprawling motif of plum blossom, bamboo, and peonies, surrounded by fluttering sparrows enhanced by details in maki-e.
The table, made to appeal to a foreign audience, incorporates a curious mixture of seasonal references. In addition to the decoration of foliage from late winter and spring, the column is decorated with grapes and a rabbit pounding rice, both Japanese motifs for autumn and the month of September. The feet, shaped like bats that almost appear to wake up from hibernation, symbolise luck and happiness in Japan.

The present flamboyant Nagasaki-style table is depicted in the Asada workshop drawings of 1856. These drawings, titled Aogai makie hiinagata hikae (memorandum of designs for lacquer with inlaid pearl shell) are unique documentation of Nagasaki lacquerware. They show a range of designs for the fashion of furniture and smaller items for export from the late Edo period. The Asada drawings can be found in The Nagasaki City Museum. Other pieces from the same design papers are in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and in the Tokyo Museum of Natural History. (Japanese Export Lacquer 1580-1850, Oliver Impey and Christiaan Jörg, Hotei Publishing 2005, p. 267 and 273).

The table appears to be the same as the one exhibited at the Gallery of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour on Pall Mall, London, in 1854, which is shown in an engraving of exhibited Japanese furniture in the Illustrated London News of 2 February 1854.

A similar table with legs shaped as butterflies is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum (inv. E62273).


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