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Namikawa Yasuyuki and Japanese Cloisonné

Namikawa Yasuyuki and Japanese Cloisonné
- The Allure of Meiji Cloisonné: The Aesthetic of Translucent Black

Saturday, January 14 – Sunday, April 9, 2017

Venue: Main building + Gallery 1, Annex


In turn he opened the other boxes, and as from each a fresh gem of art was brought to light I did not need to be told that I was in the presence of a master, for each was verily a masterpiece.
―from Herbert George Ponting, IN LOTUS-LAND JAPAN, 1910.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), cloisonné was a popular export. The exquisitely delicate cloisonné created by Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927) brought that art to its peak. This retrospective exhibition, ninety years after Namikawa’s death, brings together in one setting, for the first time, the complete range of his work, from his early period to his later years.

Namikawa was born into a samurai family in Kyoto. He served Prince Kuni Asahiko, and, after the Meiji Restoration, began producing cloisonné. Proceeding by trial and error, since he lacked formal training and reference materials, he worked to improve his techniques and designs. That effort bore fruit in recognition at exhibitions in Japan and abroad. Discerning visitors from other countries flocked to his workshop, and newspapers and magazines spread word of the “Kyoto Namikawa” brand overseas. In 1896, Namikawa was appointed Imperial Craftsman to the court to the Emperor Meiji, an honor that established his position as one of the most eminent craftsmen of his day. Then, however, the volume of production by the cloisonné industry as a whole slumped early in the Taisho era (1912-1926). Namikawa closed his workshop, and his name was gradually forgotten.

In recent years, however, growing interest in Meiji-era craft arts has led to increasing notice given to Namikawa. Detailed lines, rich colors, traditional seasonal motifs, and brilliantly polished translucent black enamel—Namikawa cloisonné incorporates both superlative technique and a sophisticated aesthetic sensibility. Its glow enthralls, as it has for over a century. To provide a complete portrait of Namikawa’s art, this exhibition includes sketches and other materials as well as finished works from both Japan and abroad.

Visiting Information


Saturday, January 14 – Sunday, April 9, 2017


Main building + Gallery 1, Annex


Closed on 2nd & 4th Wednesdays(1/25、2/8、2/22、3/8、3/22)

Opening Times:

10:00–18:00 (Last admission: 17:30)
Mar.24, 25, 26, Apr.1, 2, 7, 8, 9 late-night opening until 20:00 (Last admission 19:30)


Adults: ¥1,100 (¥880)
College and vocational students: ¥880 (¥700)
Junior high and high school students, and seniors (65 and over): ¥550 (¥440)

・Figures in parentheses are group admission fees (for groups of 20 or more).
・Admission is free for elementary and younger students and for middle school students residing or going to schools in Tokyo.
・Admission is free for visitors (and one accompanying person) with a Physical Disability Certificate, Intellectual Disability Certificate, Rehabilitation Certificate, Mental Disability Certificate, or Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate.
・Admission is free for seniors (65 and above) on the third Wednesday of each month.
・Pre-purchased tickets are available online from e+:

Organized by

Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation of History and Culture,
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
The Mainichi Newspapers

Supported by

Victoria and Albert Museum
British Council

With the sponsorship of

Okamura Printing Industries

Cooperation with


With the co-sponsorship of

Toda Cooperation

Exhibition Highlights

  • 1. Translucent Black
    Until early in the Meiji period, the enamels used in cloisonné in Japan were mostly cloudy and opaque. The range of colors was limited. Namikawa changed that. His extensive research enabled him to develop enamels, including translucent ones, in a variety of colors, making possible subtle color combinations and gradations. A further development was his translucent black enamel, a distinctive feature of his work. Translucent, gleaming black backgrounds make his colorful bird-and-flower motifs even more striking.
  • 2. A Meiji-era High-Tech Startup
    Cloisonné is a type of metal craft in which vitreous enamel paste is applied to a metal surface and the piece is then fired. From the sixteenth through the early nineteenth century, cloisonné was used mainly on architectural fittings (door pulls and decorative nail covers) and for sword guards. By the closing decades of the Tokugawa shogunate, however, it had largely been forgotten, except in the domain of Owari, where cloisonné production was revived in the 1850s. In the Meiji period, the German chemist Gottfried Wagener, one of many foreign specialists hired by the government to help introduce new technologies into Japan, brought further advances based on the Owari cloisonné techniques. Cloisonné thus made a new beginning as, in effect, a high-tech startup, as part of Japan’s efforts, as a modern state, to incorporate new technologies and establish new industries. In that newly emerging industry, Namikawa Yasuyuki stood out for his unrivaled technique and artistic sensibility.
  • 3. The First Retrospective to Focus on Namikawa Yasuyuki’s Life and Art
    In the Meiji period, the craft arts were a means of showing the world the power of Japanese technology and Japan’s unique sense of beauty, both to promote exports and earn foreign exchange and to enhance national prestige. The many recent exhibitions focusing on those craft techniques have spurred interest in this aspect of Meiji history. Yet, while techniques, choice of materials, and their further development are critical, it is only when the artist starts with a concept of what to make and applies his or her aesthetic sense and artistic sensibility that an art or craft object can take form. This exhibition explores Namikawa Yasuyuki’s life and work, showcasing not only the techniques of Meiji-period craft arts but the aesthetics that defined them, for a deeper appreciation of his achievements in cloisonné.

Top from left:
Pair of Cloisonné vases with Butterfly and Chrysanthemum Arabesques <1>/
Detail of Cloisonné vase with Butterfly and Chrysanthemum Arabesques <1>/
Large Cloisonné Vase with Chrysanthemum Crest and Wisteria Blossom Motif

Middle from left:
Detail of Large Cloisonné Vase with Chrysanthemum Crest and Wisteria Blossom Motif / Small, Narrow-Necked Cloisonné Vase with Chrysanthemum Arabesques/ Small Cloisonné Vase with Cherry Blossom, Peony, Chrysanthemum, and Butterfly Motifs/ Decorative Cloisonné Jar with Bird-and-Flower Design<2>

Bottom from left:
Drawing, Design for a Plate with Cherry Blossom and Butterfly Motif/ Drawing, Design for a Vase with Court Dancers Motif

Page top: Wisteria Blossom Vase
Cloisonné vase with Wisteria and Blossom grass

<1>: Sennyuji, Kyoto
<2>: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka museum, Kyoto
All works except for <1><2>: Namikawa Cloisonne Museum of Kyoto