Do you know what a netsuke is? According to Google, it’s: “a carved button-like ornament, especially of ivory or wood, formerly worn in Japan to suspend articles from the sash of a kimono.”
I got interested in them because I’m reading “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal whose family, the Ephrussi family, were an extremely wealthy and influential family in the 1800’s and 1900’s. The family owned a collection of 264 netsuke which Edmund inherited from his great uncle, and it led him on a journey of discovery of his family’s history and its connection to this amazing collection.
Edmund’s ancestor, Viktor Ephrussi, was born in Odessa, but moved to Vienna, where he made his fortune in wheat exports from his native Russia. This led to the formation of the Ephrussi Bank which had branches in London and Paris as well as Vienna. The family had enormous residences in Vienna and Paris, and Charles Ephrussi, who lived in Paris, supported several of the Impressionist painters of that time. The late 1800’s was a time when Japan was just opening its borders to foreigners, and Japan and Europe were each strongly affected by the exposure to the other’s culture. (See an earlier blog post in January of 2013 of an exhibit we visited in Paris comparing Van Gogh’s work with Hiroshige’s block prints.)
By pure chance, there is currently an exhibition that talks about that same period of time at the Musée Guimet (Museum for Asian Art) called: Meiji, Splendeurs du Japon impérial (1868-1912) that runs from October 17th to January 14th of 2019.
It is a gorgeous building that originally opened in 1889 funded by an industrialist of the time, Emile Etienne Guimet. The paintings in the exhibit offer a fascinating glimpse of Tokyo at that time:
The museum is also filled with beautiful art from China, India, and Korea, as well as work from Nepal and Afghanistan. It’s well worth a visit!
Finally, another bit of pure chance is that TODAY, on Amazon.com, the Kindle version of the Edmund De Waal book is just $2.99. Absolutely worth reading, in my opinion!