Recent Gifts: The Melion and Clum Japanese Ceramic and Print Collection

Charger. Japanese, 1912–26. Manufactured by Fukagawa Koransha. Porcelain with overglazed enamel decoration. Gift of Drs. Walter S. Melion and John M. Clum, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2017.160
Recently, the museum received a wonderful collection of approximately 100 Japanese ceramics and 22 prints, many of them triptychs, donated by Professors Walter Melion and John Clum. The collection is stunning in the quality, beauty, and presence of each print and ceramic.

CERAMICS

The ceramic collection was begun by Hans Melion (Walter’s father), who was born in Vienna during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (r. 1848–1916). From a family of collectors, Hans began acquiring Japanese ceramics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Forced to flee Vienna in 1940, he migrated east, first to Shanghai then Manila, where he was befriended by a community of Anglican missionaries, including a woman named Nellie McKim whose father had been the Anglican bishop of Tokyo. Nellie, a great admirer of Japanese ceramics, encouraged Hans to rebuild his collection and he continued to do so after moving to San Francisco in the 1960s. The Melion collection centers on decorative ceramics that were produced in Japan between the 1880s and 1930s, with a preference for Imari and Kutani pieces. Hans was a connoisseur of underglaze and overglaze techniques, and he was sensitive to the relationship between a pot’s shape and its painted decoration. When he died in the late 1990s, Hans left a bequest of funds to fill gaps (works by unrepresented Imari factories and workshops) in the collection.

Terminology used to describe and distinguish various types of ceramics during this period is often confusing. The most common descriptors are kiln, family, and place names and sometimes these overlap. For example, Imari ceramics are also called Arita or Kakeimon ceramics. Arita is a town located in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island whose principle economic and artistic activity is devoted to the production of high-end overglaze ceramics. Imari is the port from which porcelain was shipped to other parts of Japan and the West. Sometimes these ceramics are identified as Kakeimon after the name of the seventeenth-century potter Sakaida Kakeimon who perfected the technique of overglaze enamel decoration. His kiln was near the town of Arita. Kutani is another place name also located in Kyushu near the city of Kanazawa. But, with a long history of production there are several types of Kutani ware, which are differentiated by age and decorative technique.

Japanese ceramics. Gifts of Drs. Walter S. Melion and John M. Clum, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2017.148, 2017.173, 2017.125, 2017.124, 2017.146

The collection brings together some of the finest examples of Japanese ceramics created during this window of time and specificity of place. Many pieces in the collection were produced by the Fukugawa family factory in Arita. It makes high-quality ceramics decorated with exquisite detail and technical perfection that are fit, quite literally, for an emperor. The Fukugawa factory has been the purveyor of Japanese ceramics to the imperial family since 1910.

Unusually, the collection also includes many pairs of ceramics. It is hard enough to find one piece in pristine condition, so imagine the difficulty of finding two! The entire collection is of the highest quality, and the addition of these marvelous ceramics enriches our holdings in immeasurable ways. Future guests to the museum can look forward to seeing a rotating selection in the galleries, and they will likely come away impressed and delighted by these masterpieces of Japanese art.

PRINTS

In describing the origins of their wonderful print collection, John Clum and Walter Melion recall, “One day in a gallery in London about thirty years ago we got the bug and began buying Japanese woodblock prints.” The first was by Hiroshige, but John’s interest soon focused on Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), especially his series 100 Phases of the Moon (1885–92), and Toyohara Chikanobu (1838–1912), an underappreciated artist recommended by Bruce Coates, who was writing the definitive book on the artist. The purchase of many other prints, particularly diptychs and triptychs, followed.

Both artists’ careers span the decades when Japan was emerging from about 250 years of self-imposed isolation. However, each of them reacted to their changing world in very different ways. Yoshitoshi, although interested in modernization and Westernization, increasingly focused on traditions of the past while Chikanobu emphatically embraced and documented the world around him. The majority of the prints in this gift are by Chikanobu, with a few by his close, but less well-known, contemporaries. Chikanobu’s life spanned the end of the Edo period (1615–1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), a time of social unrest, encroachment by Western powers (notably the United States), and the modernization of every aspect of Japanese life, from education and the economy to the electrification of the cities and the writing of a constitution.

Toyohara Chikanobu (Japanese, 1838-1912). Singing By the Plum Garden, 1887. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of Walter S. Melion and John M. Clum, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2017.201 A-C

In his prints, Chikanobu addressed contemporary life, from images of the Sino-Japanese War to changing fashions. In Singing by the Plum Garden (1887) we see the two worlds of old and new Japan in counter balance. The subject of the print is an evening’s entertainment: Empress Shōken, her son, and her attending ladies enjoy a concert. The Western and modern elements are obvious—the piano and Western dress, chairs, and architecture—but less apparent is the new idea of producing an image of the royal family,  something previously forbidden. The more traditional aspects of Japanese life are found in the setting and the pastime of plum blossom viewing, an activity that has deep roots in the Japanese past.

Toyohara Chikanobu (Japanese, 1838–1912). Saigo’s Final Battle at Shiroyama (Shiroyama Oshingeki Saigo Kessen no zu), 1877. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, 13 ¾ x 9 15/16 in. each. Gift of Drs. Walter S. Melion and John M. Clum, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2017.215 A–C
Chikanobu also designed more familiar-looking battle scenes such as

Saigo’s Final Battle at Shiroyama (Shiroyama Oshingeki Saigo Kessen no zu) (1877). Although following the compositional layout of traditional samurai battle scenes, this print also has a modern twist. The scene depicts the famous and near contemporaneous battle of Shiroyama that took place in September 1877 between the rebellious samurai of Satsuma province and the imperial army (seen on the right). The defeat of the Satsuma samurai by a conscripted Japanese army effectively ended the samurai class.

Through these two examples we can see not only Chikanobu’s masterful design sense but also how much he was a man of his times. He straddled two worlds and two narratives but made them seamless. Chikanobu was indeed a master of his medium, and with this gift, we are fortunate to showcase his talent.

Judith A Stubbs. PhD

Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

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Spotlights Exhibition: Japanese Surimono Prints

70.4.73Image: Sadaoka Gakutei (Japanese, 1786[?]-1868). First Companion of the Writing Chamber: Ink, ca. 1827. Surimono: ink, metallic powders, and color on paper. Eskenazi Museum of Art 70.4.73

This summer the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is offering a special exhibition called Spotlights: Five Views into the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Collection, on view June 11-September 4, 2016. In this exhibition each of the museum’s five curators has chosen a group of objects to highlight due to their rarity, research interest, or importance, as a way of further displaying the range and quality that make the museum’s collection among the best in the country. You can find an overview of the exhibition HERE, and we will be taking a deeper look at the individual collections “spotlighted” here on the blog this summer. First up is an exquisite collection of Japanese surimono woodblock prints, curated by Judy Stubbs, the museum’s Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art. Stay tuned for future updates. 

The Eskenazi Museum of Art is fortunate to have a collection of almost ninety surimono, or special-edition prints, in various formats. However, these appealing prints are rarely exhibited because of their light-sensitive pigments. The prints in Spotlights have not been on display as a group since 1979, when Professor Theodore Bowie (Indiana University Department of Fine Arts) curated an exhibition of surimono that was accompanied by a groundbreaking catalogue. Spotlights offers a welcome opportunity to research these prints anew, add information, and display two newly acquired prints for the first time.

The word surimono means “printed thing,” a definition that does little to explain this exquisite genre of woodblock printing, which combines poetry and imagery. Developed in the late eighteenth century, surimono prints were privately commissioned and exchanged between friends and colleagues–especially members of poetry groups–as gifts, rather than sold commercially. As such, surimono required a high level of collaboration between artist, printer, and patron. Produced in small numbers, the prints offered opportunities for the use of elaborate printing techniques and luxurious materials such as fine paper and gold and silver inks.

2016.25Image: Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807-1891). A Cock, a Chicken, and Chicks, 1861, Year of the Rooster. Surimono: ink and color on paper. Purchased with funds from the Thomas T. Solley Endowed Fund for Asian Art and the estate of Herman B Wells via the Joseph Granville and Anne Bernice Wells Memorial Fund, Eskenazi Museum of Art 2016.25

 

The prints displayed in Spotlights were made for a variety of occasions, especially as New Year’s cards, but also as eulogies, invitations, and anything related to Kabuki actors. During the Edo period (1603-1868), Kabuki plays were an extremely popular form of entertainment. Additionally, two examples of the surimono subgroup Egoyomi, or calendar prints, are on view. Initially, surimono were printed in a wide variety of sizes, until about 1810 when the shikishiban, or square print format (size 20.5 x 18.5 cm), became the norm. Surimono prints often include one or more kyoka, or “wild verse” poetry, which often take visual cues from the accompanying images to create puns for the puzzlement and enjoyment of the viewer.

2016.24Image: Ryuryuko Shinsai (active 1799-1823). Lacquer Box and Writing Implements, 1818, Year of the Tiger. Commissioned by the Shakuyakutei Poetry Group. Surimono: ink, metallic pigments, and color on paper. Purchased with funds from the Thomas T. Solley Endowed Fund for Asian Art and the estate of Herman B Wells via the Joseph Granville and Anna Bernice Wells Memorial Fund, Eskenazi Museum of Art 2016.24

 

In total, twenty-one surimono are on view in the Spotlights exhibition. We hope you will take the opportunity to visit the museum and see this rarely exhibited collection for yourself. If you would like to learn more about Japanese woodblock prints we recommend you visit the website Viewing Japanese Prints, which offers a wealth of information on the subject. If you have any questions, please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website