A couple visiting a thrift shop in Surrey, England, bought a small cloisonné vase for a few pounds, equivalent to about $3.30 in U.S. currency. They suspected the markings on its base might have some meaning and found out that they were the signature of Namikawa Yasuyuki, one of the greatest artists of the “Golden Age” of Japanese enamels from the late 19th to early 20th century. Namikawa worked for the Kyoto Cloisonné Company from 1871 to 1874 and later started his own company. During his career, he was appointed an Imperial Household Artist, won first prize at Japan’s National Industrial Exhibition in 1895, and received a gold prize at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900. Today, his workshop in Kyoto, which he operated out of his home, built in 1894, is a museum dedicated to his art.

This particular vase is about 4 1/4 inches tall, its small stature making the cloisonné work even more intricate. It has a colorful geometric pattern around its neck and a scene with a rooster, hen, and chickens among different types of flowering plants with smaller birds flying above. Namikawa was known for this kind of naturalistic decoration, and for the shining black ground. He had developed a characteristic black enamel in collaboration with a scientist. The vase sold at The Canterbury Auction Galleries’ Two Day Sale ending July 30. Before the auction, specialists predicted a sale price equal to $11,800 U.S. It sold for £6300 plus the buyer’s premium (U.S. $8,127, with the buyer’s premium bringing the final price to $10,321)—a little short of the presale estimate, but still impressive; especially when compared to its price at the thrift shop!


Japanese cloisonné vase with chickens on black ground

Photo courtesy The Canterbury Auction Galleries

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