Monday, May 13, 2013

The Glessners and Japonisme, Part II

On Tuesday May 14, 2013 at 7:00pm, Glessner House Museum will host a lecture by Rolf Achilles entitled “The Glessners’ Kutani ware bowl and Chicago’s take on Japonisme.”  The event celebrates the restoration of the Glessners’ Kutani bowl, funded by a generous gift from the Chicago Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, The First Chapter and restored by the talented craftsmen at The Conservation Center.  For further information on the lecture or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.  Tickets are $10 per person and can also be purchased at the door.

Last week we explored the Glessners’ strong interest in the Japonisme movement by looking at several of the books in their library that focus on Japanese art and design.   This week, we spotlight a few of the beautiful objects on display in their home.  The Western world had been closed off to the kingdom of Japan for centuries until 1853 when the American government sent a formal party headed by Commodore Matthew Perry to the Emperor of Japan to establish friendship and trade.  A formal treaty was signed in March of 1854.   Many Americans, including the Glessners, would have first had an opportunity to see examples of Japanese wares at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.   (The Glessners attended the fair for two days in August of that year).  Not surprisingly the Japanese department was one of the main centers of attraction of the fair and Clay Lancaster, writing in his Japanese Influence in America in 1963, noted that “the importance of the exhibits, in introducing Americans to these phases of Japanese art cannot be overestimated.”  The Glessners also frequently visited curiosity shops, and their journal makes numerous mentions of looking at and purchasing items of Japanese design.  The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 also provided a wonderful opportunity to view “some four hundred pieces, including sculptures in wood, plaster, and bronze and other metals, carvings in wood and ivory, paintings, prints, cloisonné enamels, pottery and porcelains, lacquers, metal works, and architectural models” according to A History of the World’s Columbian Exposition published in 1897, R. Johnson, editor.

An interesting entry is found in the Glessner journal, dated January 30, 1891:
“We stayed in the parlor after supper where Prof. Morse talked for awhile about his experiences in Japan where he was a Professor in the University of Tokio.  When he came in the house he walked straight up to a vase which we have always called ‘Corean’ – he told us it was very rare Satsuma – and the first he had ever seen in a private collection.  He showed us how the (Japanese) made tea and was altogether interesting and delightful.  He asked me Sunday if I had the September Harper’s for 1888.  I sent to the attic and found it.  It had a very interesting article about Satsuma with a picture of the mate (almost) to our vase.”

NOTE:  Prof. Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925) originally gained recognition as a zoologist and in 1877 travelled to Japan where he was offered a post as the first Professor of Zoology at the Tokyo Imperial University.  He amassed an important collection of more than 5,000 pieces of Japanese pottery and ceramics which today form part of the “Morse Collection” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  He became Keeper of Pottery at the Museum in 1890, shortly before his visit to the Glessners. 

The 10-inch stoneware jug, shown above, is very similar to a piece of Sunkoroko Satsuma illustrated in the September 1888 Harper’s article by Prof. Morse, but it is not known if this is the piece referenced in the journal entry. 

This vase, 14.5 inches tall, is also a Satsuma piece, but was clearly made for the Western market.  It features the typical dingy cream color seen on many Satsuma pieces, and is decorated with large roses applied in relief to the vase, with a stick-like branch that “jumps” on and off the surface of the piece.  The glaze features a fine crackling effect.

The centerpiece of the May 14th lecture is the Glessners’ large Kutani bowl.  Measuring more than 19 inches in diameter, the boldly colored porcellaneous stoneware bowl is an example of ao Kutani and is dateable to the 1870s period when the Glessners first began collecting “bric-a-brac” and Japanese objects.  Original Kutani ware was only made for a brief period in the Kaga province during the mid-17th century, but the process was revived in the 19th century.  Ao Kutani (green Kutani) refers to pieces that are decorated all over in green, yellow, and purple, usually with geometric background patterns.  A “fuku” (good luck) mark on the reverse of the piece indicates it may have been produced at the Yoshidaya kiln, originally built on the site of the Old Kutani kiln.  The Glessner piece features a bold design of bamboo stalks and leaves with cherry blossoms, all set against a background of stylized chrysanthemums.  The sides are deep green with repeated stylized scalloped clouds.  The bowl shows in photographs of the Glessners’ home on Washington Street taken about 1880 so it is clearly among the earlier pieces of Japanese manufacture that the Glessners purchased.  In their Prairie Avenue home, the piece was always displayed atop the Isaac Scott designed bookcase in the upper hall.  It was damaged in 1996 and has not been on public display since that time.

Another interesting piece in the collection is a 14.5 inch stoneware oil plate featuring a Samurai warrior made in Seto Japan and attributed to Kozan, who exhibited at both the 1876 and 1893 fairs.  It began its life as a piece of Seto folk pottery produced for everyday use, which was then glazed and decorated, a wax resist applied and glazed again to achieve the beading effect.  (Detail shown at top of article)

This pair of Japanese vases feature enamel work consisting of trailing floral vines against the marbleized brown and cream ground.  In John Glessner’s 1923 The Story of a House, he mentions this “pair of mottled Japanese vases from the Centennial Exposition of 1876.”  They may be the first pieces of Japanese design the Glessners every purchased.

This piece, considered among the finer pieces in the Glessner collection is known as engobe ware, an example of Japanese porcelain that copies Chinese pieces.  The fine quality white porcelain is glazed in a version of ‘ashes of roses’ – a popular color in the 19th century. 

A striking piece, displayed in the library is an example of Hirado ware.  Hirado has a long history of porcelain production and the period from the mid-1700s to about 1830 is considered to be the years in which the finest Hirado, and in fact the finest Japanese porcelain, was produced.  The ware is characterized by a very fine-grained, pure white body with no traces of grayness, and bold ultra-marine blues, the pieces formed into slender necked exaggerated forms.  This is probably the finest Japanese piece in the collection today. 

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