The Stephen W. Fisher collection of Japanese cloisonné enamels is one of the finest in the world. Comprised largely of pieces created during Japan’s “golden age” of decorative art production, the special exhibition, Japanese Cloisonné Enamels from the Stephen W. Fisher Collection, will feature many intricately adorned vases, boxes and trays worked in gold, silver and dazzling colored enamels.
On view from Feb. 14-June 13, the exhibition features over 130 objects that have been chosen to illustrate the wide range of forms, styles and techniques that have come to define the high point in the production of Japanese enamel.
Cloisonné is a method of enameling an object using fine wires to outline decorative areas within which enamel paste is applied before the object is fired and polished. These enamels played an important role in Japan’s assertion of its own modernity in newly-opened international markets. Reaching artistic maturity in the 1870s and being aggressively produced through the first decades of the 20th century, production of these brightly-colored works was stimulated by worldwide demand fed by Japan’s participation in international expositions and world’s fairs. Masterworks of cloisonné were sent as showpieces to the expositions where they served both to meet European expectations of Asian exoticism and inspired the development of international modern decorative styles. Many of the distinctive styles that emerged during this period are represented by outstanding examples in the Fisher collection, including works by the masters Namikawa Yasuyuki, Namikawa Sosuke and Jubei.
“Steve Fisher is generous in his dedication to sharing superb objects with our museum visitors,” said Walters director Gary Vikan. “By partnering with the Walters, his collection has the ability to reach out and inspire visitors with the power of its beauty and intricate detail.”
The exhibition is made possible with the support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and a generous gift from the members of the Walters Art Museum’s Friends of the Asian Collection. The exhibition’s educational programs are supported by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. The publication of Japanese Cloisonné Enamels: The Stephen W. Fisher Collection has been generously supported by a gift from Tsognie and Douglas Hamilton.
“Cloisonné enamel has only a few precedents in pre-modern Japanese art but rose rapidly to become synonymous with the best of Japanese design, decoration and technical refinement during the liberalizing tenure of the Meiji government,” said Walters Associate Curator of Asian Art Robert Mintz. “The works selected for this exhibition were produced at the very peak of innovation and creativity for this art form during the forty years or so surrounding the turn of the 20th century.”
With the feudal control of the Tokugawa shogunate gradually losing its grip on society and seaports opening to foreign trade at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japanese enamellists pushed the limits of their craft both domestically and internationally to much acclaim.
Owari cloisonné, named for a pre-Meiji Japanese province centered in the city of Nagoya, was the first and longest-lived of the 19th-century Japanese enameling traditions. Owari cloisonné artists introduced new techniques, including “wireless” cloisonné, relief enamel and transparent enamel cloisonné that led to their continued success during this period. Jubei formed the And? Cloisonné Company and began production in Nagoya. In the exhibition, Tripod Incense Burner Decorated with Japanese Sweetfish illustrates the And? Company’s aesthetic. This company is the only remaining Meiji-era Japanese cloisonné production studio still producing enamels today.
Hattori Tadesabur? and his artisans worked in competition with the And? Cloisonné Company. They developed a distinctive style inspired by keen observations of nature. For example, Hattori’s Vases Decorated with Calla Lilies and Camellias capture the essence of their floral subjects. When vessels like these reached the European markets they had a profound impact on the development of modern Art Nouveau decoration.
Artist Namikawa S?suke’s work emerged directly from the Owari tradition. He led the Nagoya Cloisonné Company’s factory in Tokyo, and his work revels in the potential of “wireless” cloisonné. The painterly effects this technique enabled can be seen in his Pair of Vases Decorated with Ducks Among Snowy Reeds. His skill helped to elevate cloisonné enamel from an industrial craft to fine art.
One of the most famous cloisonné artists in Japan, Namikawa Yasuyuki, worked in the city of Kyoto, known for its elegant if somewhat conservative style of decoration. Namikawa’s pieces exhibit refined workmanship and extremely rich decorative schemes. While his works were thematically restrained, his use of sculpted wires to accent his designs reveals his mastery of cloisonné techniques and his willingness to innovate, as demonstrated in his Incense Burner Decorated with Hydrangea.
Publication: The accompanying 144-page catalog with 116 color illustrations documents over one hundred masterpieces of the art from the Stephen W. Fisher collection. A personal account by Mr. Fisher of the collection’s genesis and development reveals the aesthetic and stylistic affinities that gave shape to this collection. In an accompanying essay, Mintz surveys the intricate process of cloisonné enameling, traces the rapid technical innovation that took place in Japan during the 19th century and explores the artistic exchanges between Japan and the West in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. The catalog provides brief accounts of the major workshops represented in the collection and descriptive information on each of the works illustrated.
Admission and Hours: Admission to Japanese Cloisonné Enamels is free. Museum hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets and is one of only a few museums worldwide to present a comprehensive history of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. Among its thousands of treasures, the Walters holds the finest collection of ivories, jewelry, enamels and bronzes in America and a spectacular reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books. The Walters’ Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Ethiopian and western medieval art collections are among the best in the nation, as are the museum’s holdings of Renaissance and Asian art. Every major trend in French painting during the 19th century is represented by one or more works in the Walters’ collection.
Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. This historic property is just around the corner from the museum and features George’s, a full-service restaurant. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500 and ask for the special Walters discounted rate.