I was in London for a few hours the other day and took the opportunity to pop into the ‘In A Nutshell’ Exhibition at the Japanese Embassy. I say ‘pop in’ but unless you work round there and can do several short visits it really is worth giving it an hour at least to have a really good look as there are 218 catalogued exhibits to look at.
To be honest I have walked past the Japanese Embassy on Piccadilly many times without even realising it was there (its near Green Park Tube station) so it was really nice to have an excuse to go in.
Being an Embassy you need photo ID to gain access to the building and you also have to pass through security scans, though the exhibition is free to visit. There are restrictions in that you are not allowed to take photos (hence the photo with this post being of the flyer and exhibit list!) but this is a minor inconvenience. There are even comfy sofas so that you can sit and mull over what you’ve seen and watch the film on the TV screen.
The exhibition space is lovely and bright and the pieces are arranged so that the majority of them you can see all the way around which is really refreshing as you can fully appreciate all the work that has gone into them. Obviously you can’t see the bases as they are standing on them. I was really impressed by the quality of the work on display.
It is always odd seeing work ‘in the flesh’ when previously you have only seen it in a book or on the internet. I am mostly surprised by the size difference, although the sizes are stated with the photographs I never seem to quite take it in. The photographs are usually close ups which make the work seem huge and can also make larger work and smaller work seem like they are a similar size. For example the first case on the right contains mainly figures and to me they look massive, I sometimes forget that Netsuke come in varying sizes just as do the humans who wear/wore them.
There were several Netsuke that I would have loved to have taken home, had I had the chance to and the money to afford them! Not that these are for sale but the ‘would you take it home’ feeling is one I often use when deciding whether I like something or not. My absolute favourite is number 82 a Kudan carved in wood by Masayoshi, early – mid 19th century, I was just fascinated by the extra eyes on both the head and the body and the fine carving of the hair although I had no idea of what a Kudan is or should look like. I’ve just looked it up and it is a humanoid monster in the legends and folklore of Japan, more research is necessary here I think.
A couple of Tigers caught my eye, number 136 a Tiger carved in wood by Tomokazu, early 19th century, looked really strokeable, you know that you’d be able to feel the fur when you held it in your hand. Also number 139 a Tiger carved in Ivory by Sekiran nanjuroku (sai) (Sekiran at the age of 76), mid 19th century, I really loved his eyes and the, I can only call it a cat like grin on his face. If you see it you’ll know what I mean.
I was immensely pleased to see a piece by British Carver Michael Webb displayed (203 Frog on Lily Pads carved in wood, 1982) as I am a fan of his work and have been lucky enough to hold a couple of his pieces. His work is very intricate and you can really see the time that has gone into the creation.
The run of 9 snail Netsuke in a row was a lovely display choice, it looked almost like they were all sleeping on a wall in the garden.
If you have read the book ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ by Edmund de Waal, that hare is on display in this exhibition. Although I must say, not sure how controversial I am being here, that I actually prefer the photos of it to the actual piece. If you go and have a look at the exhibition do let me know what you think. It is in the display case directly opposite the poster featuring the hare.
Through visiting this exhibition I have confirmed to myself that I prefer the animal subjects to the humans and also have discovered that I am really drawn to the more highly carved pieces.
Would I recommend that you go see the exhibition? Yes I do, it is a really nice exhibition showing a wide variety of subjects and one of the few places where you can see all the way around the majority of the pieces. Whether you have seen Netsuke before or not if you are anywhere near the Embassy go and have a look.
The exhibition is open Mon – Fri (not bank holidays) 9.30 – 17.30 at the Japanese Embassy, Piccadilly, London. For further details visit the Japanese Embassy website.
If you do go, do come back and tell me what you thought of it. I’d love to hear about it…..
Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .