The late 19th century brought extensive change to Japan as it transformed itself from an isolated feudal nation into its modern form. Fundamental changes affected the country's social structure, economy, military, foreign relations and, of course, the arts. This period of flux is known as the Meiji Period, after the Meiji Emperor who held the throne from 1868 until his death in 1912.
During this period Japan’s new leaders realised that the historic skills of the metalworker, lacquerer, enameller and ceramic artist could play a vital part in the struggle to compete in international markets and before long, visitors to international exhibitions in Europe and America were presented with astonishing displays of Japanese artistic creativity and technical virtuosity.
The unique blending of traditional design and international taste that defines Meiji art produced pieces remarkable in the quality of their craftsmanship that have been avidly sought by Western collectors since. Collectable categories include miniatures like netsuke and inro, metalwares, bronze sculptures, armour, swords and sword fittings such as tsuba.
Our upcoming September Asian Art auction includes a wonderful selection of Meiji period pieces - perfect for the seasoned collector or one just starting out.
Netsuke (pronounced net-ski) go hand in hand with inro, the small compartmentalised boxes used to carry medicines. Inro were hung by a cord from the wearer's belt, the cord tightened by the ojime, or bead, and held in place by the netsuke, acting as a toggle slipped through the belt to hold it in place. First made in the 17th century they continued until the Meiji period when western dress was introduced to Japan. Always full of character and charm these beautifully carved items have been widely collected in the West since the late 19th century.
The tsuba is the guard at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons. It contributed to the balance of the weapon and to the protection of the hand. The tsuba was mostly meant to be used to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade during thrusts as opposed to protecting from an opponent's blade. During the peaceful Meiji period (1868-1912) tsuba became more ornamental - finely decorated and made of less practical precious metals - and thus collector's items or heirlooms.