Sunday, January 6, 2013

Japanese Textiles at the Ashmolean Museum

Threads of Silk and Gold: Ornamental textiles from Meiji Japan
Ashmolean Museum Oxford until 27th January
A stunning exhibition of 40 sumptuous pieces from the newly acquired collection of the Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto. Tapestries and embroideries from the Meiji period (1868-1912)
Stormy with Seagulls is a superb example of the use of silk for shading and the colours, and mood, of the piece apparently change as the viewer moves past it and perceives the light from different angles. Like many of the pieces this was undoubted made for export, Japanese artists and designers having become aware of the popularity of seascapes with Western audiences.
Screen depicting the four classes of Edo Japan is thought to have been produced for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The figures are worked in padded silk, not dissimilar in technique to the European stumpwork but far more detailed and expressive. They offer not only an insight into the hierarchy of the Edo period but also a glimpse of the trades that were valued such as basketry, braiding, ceramics and paper making.
  Screen with peacock and peahen was almost certainly made for an exhibition with its spectacular design, outstanding execution and complimentary border of peacock feathers on the lower edge of the lacquer frame. The black background to the silk and metal thread embroidery gives the whole piece the lustrous effect of lacquer ware. It is thought to have been produced by the leading Kyoto silk manufacturer Nishimura Sozaemon.
 Whilst the peacock is obviously the centre of attention the object of his attention, the peahen, is no less exquisitely worked with the jewel like colours of her feathers showing that she is a worthy recipient of his efforts, even if she does appear to be more interested in the nearest dandelion.

The loan textiles are enhanced with pieces from the Ashmolean's own collections including
Cranes, Cycads and Wisteria which hanging is thought to have been purchased in 1908 by Sir Herbert Ingram on his honeymoon. Cranes were symbols of longevity and so an ideal subject for newly weds. The trailing wisteria cleverly disguise the joins of the four panels that make up the work but it is the attention to detail on the black wingtip feathers that are perhaps the most impressive aspect of the workmanship.
Also from the Ashmolean is this Okimono (ornament) in the form of bamboo leaves with a cicada made of iron with silver and gold inlays. (approx. 9x34x21cm)

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