NEW YORK – Netsuke are Japanese miniature sculptures originally used as toggles on the end of a cord that held a money pouch or inro. Evolving over time from their utilitarian purpose, netsuke have become an expressive art form in itself and a coveted collectible in the Asian community. Jasper52 will present an auction of premium netsuke on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
Stars of the 77-lot auction begin with a leaping wild boar carved in the 19th century and signed “Shuzan.” The beast (above) exhibits the fine detail a great netsuke should have, from its expressive face with teeth to its a wiry coat. It is expected to sell for $5,500-$7,000.
A fine contemporary example of the netsuke carver’s art is a realistic depiction of a bat on an upturned roof tile. Nishino Shoko, one of the best 20th-century carvers, signed the object, which replicates the bat’s delicate leathery wing texture and furry body. It carries an $8,000-$10,000 estimate.
Kyoryusai Ittan was a superb carver of the Nagoya School in the 19th century and his recumbent buffalo shows fine detail and rich patina. It is signed “Ittan” in an oval reserve on the bottom followed by the kakihan (carved monogram) of the artist.
Though the dragon boxwood netsuke from the late 18th or early 19th century does not photograph well, it is a finely carved and compact piece that depicts a fierce dragon clutching the Precious Pearl in its claws with flames issuing from its body.
Wooden netsuke by the great 19th-century carver Shoundo Hakuryu are rare. His work in the auction represents tanuki, a badger, that has a reputation of a trickster. In Japanese folklore he drums with his paws on his large belly, imitating the sounding of gongs in temples and inns, and leading tired travelers astray in the darkness. The critter has an extraordinary face with a mischievous expression and crisply carved individual teeth. It is signed “Hakuryu” on the back.
Another highly regarded carver of the 19th century is Sato Masayoshi, whose wolf with a skull is one of the top lots in the auction. It exhibits amazing attention to details such as its fangs and teeth, muscle tone and a menacing facial expression. The beast is signed “Masayoshi” on its stomach.
The Japan in Miniature: a Premium Netsuke Auction will begin Wednesday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.