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5/3/2015 | Weekly Highlight: KITAOJI Rosanjin

Weekly Highlight: KITAOJI Rosanjin

北大路魯山人 (1883-1959)


 The late collector Sidney B. Cardozo (1916-2002) was the first person to introduce me to the work of Kitaoji Rosanjin 北大路魯山人 back in 1990. In his small Shibuya apartment, Cardozo opened box after box to show me his treasures, many of which were Rosanjin works. Rosanjin, a self-made man, is a household name to any Japanese collector. The legacy of his legendary life can be felt in the arts of calligraphy, iron work, painting, food, and most famously in ceramics!


To write about him in one page is impossible. This only serves as a bait for you to arise your interest and to read more about him.


Rosanjin had a miserable childhood. His father committed suicide before he was born upon finding out that Rosanjin was not his own son, and his mother disappeared shortly after his birth. Rosanjin was passed around from one relative's house to another until the age of six, when he was apprenticed to and adopted by the Kyoto woodblock engraver Fukuda Takezou. At the age of ten he started working for a local Chinese herbalist, and in 1903 Rosanjin moved to Tokyo to study Japanese calligraphy. He won first prize in a contest sponsored by the Japan Art Academy the following year, and was accepted as an apprentice by a noted calligrapher in 1905. Calligraphy was Rosanjin's first profession, but his practice would come to encompass many more artistic disciplines.


     At the age of 38, Rosanjin opened an antique shop and restaurant where he built his own garden, as well as all the furniture and table wares to his own exacting aesthetic standards. To him, ceramic dishes are the kimono of dishes--the very epitome of the ceramic arts--and he was never happy until he created his own. Rosanjin's arrogance and bluntness eventually cost him his famous restaurant, six marriages, and his own popularity among his guests, but allowed him to rise to a level at which he could work with many of the great geniuses of ceramics, including Arakawa Toyozo and Kaneshige Toryo.

Rosanjin's love of classic Chinese and Japanese ceramics inspired him to explore different forms and methods, including Mino, Shigaraki, Bizen, and Kutani ceramics, a well as traditional Ming period blue and white Chinese wares. In 1946, despite some post-war financial difficulties, he opened his own gallery in the Ginza district of Tokyo, which he called Kadōkadō-bibō 火土火土美房. The gallery was patronized by the higher levels of the American occupation forces, which helped to establish Rosanjin's reputation overseas. He was visited by Isamu Noguchi and his wife in 1951, and in 1952 the Rockefeller Foundation invited Rosanjin to hold a solo exhibition of his works at New York's Museum of Modern Art. During this period he also travelled in Europe and met Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. 


Rosanjin started as an amateur potter, and due to his unorthodox training his works are remarkably free and fresh. He experimented with many types of clay and many more types of glazed surfaces, and the wide range of stylistic variation makes his career almost hard to follow, but the stunning results are always worth further investigation. Here, his red Shino tea bowl features a crosshatch pattern on the body and its perfect balance just begs to be held. The Bizen tea bowl has a stunning ash deposit and a wide open bottom, making it easy to use practically. This striking Oribe jar is covered with an exuberant dark green and and fresh green glaze which would perfectly compliment an arrangement of flowers. To Rosanjin, the best works don't reveal themselves to you until you use them, and close interaction with these three pieces certainly engages both the senses and the imagination.


 Rosanjin was designated as a Living National Treasure in 1955, but declined the honor. he passed away in 1959 at the age of 76. 


Red-Shino Tea bowl 紅志野茶碗
H7.6cm x Dia11.8cm, H3" x Dia4.5"
With Signed Wood Box


Bizen Tea Bowl 備前茶碗

 H7.4cm x Dia11cm, H3" x 4.5"  

Original signed box with authentication box by Kuroda Masaomi, also lacquer presentation box. 


Oribe Jar 於里扁(織部)壷
H16.2cm x Dia15.6cm, H6.3" x Dia6"
With original artist signed box, lacquer presentation box 


C.S. Jiang