Covered box (tebako) with design of hemp palm leaves

Artist: Hirai Koshu (1881-1933)
Historical period(s)
Showa era, ca. 1924-1930
Lacquer, gold, wood, and pewter
H x W x D: 17.5 x 23.5 x 29.5 cm (6 7/8 x 9 1/4 x 11 5/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase--funds given by William F. Whalen in memory of Virginia Hoffman Whalen
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Container, Lacquer


Japan, Showa era (1926 - 1989)
Provenance research underway.

The form of this box is that of the traditional tebako, a covered box that was used to store a set of smaller boxes containing a woman's cosmetics and personal accessories. 

The striking decor of  this box follows principles of design associated with the Rimpa school, which began with innovative lacquer objects attributed to Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637). Rimpa-style lacquers are characterized by bold designs that wrap continuously over the surface of an object and achieve a dynamic balance between motif and void space. 

The decoration of this box consists of a hemp palm (shuro) motif that begins on one side near the base of the box, with fronds of fan-like leaves extending up over the top of the box. The coloration and materials of the box reflect the innovative use of newly-available modern materials that revitalized and transformed lacquer decoration in the 1920's and shifted the palette of lacquer objects produced in this period reflects the incorporation of new materials that shifted dramatically away from the traditional black, red, gold, and silver that had dominated traditional Japanese lacquer. Here titanium produces an ivory background that would not have been possible using traditional materials. The palm is executed in low relief in greens and browns, and fine gold powder, a traditional maki-e technique, is used to create a subtle shimmer that enlivens the surface.

Published References
  • Jeffery Cline, William Knospe. Blue Wind. Seattle, WA, 2000. p. 106.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
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