What Kind Of Japanese Art Do I Have?
April 16, 2016 1:52 PM   Subscribe

While digging around in one of my trunks, I came across a piece of art that I'd forgotten I had. I had bought it years ago, at an estate sale and I'm wondering if it is of any particular value. Description below the fold.

It is a drawing, on paper, of a woman. I don't want to leap to the conclusion that she's a Geisha, but she's wearing an ornate kimono and holding a red fan in her right hand. Perhaps I'm perpetually dirty-minded, but the centre of the fan looks distinctly erotic, like a vagina almost. The piece is 7.5" by 4" and the figure is placed on a gold background, with the texture of the paper being quite visible. It is in a plain dark wood frame, 11.5" by 7", with a glossy off-white matt. On the rear, it is labelled:
Artist Unknown. Colors on Paper. Edo Period.
Collection of Mr Kokichi Otani.
Important Cultural Property of Japan.

Any input as to exactly what it is that I have and if it's worth selling would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance to anyone who responds and apologies for not being able to post a linked picture.
posted by alltomorrowsparties to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure it's a drawing? Given a bit of googling, it sounds like you might have yourself a ukiyo-e woodblock print.

It looks like that at some point, there was an exhibition of nishiki-e (colored woodblock prints) from "The Otani Kokichi Collection" in 2011, at a museum called the New Otani Art Museum, which appears to be run by a hotel company called the New Otani Group. There are other cluttered references to various nishiki-e exhibits or pieces associated with a "Kokichi Otani Collection", but I'm having difficulty finding any details about the collection or collector itself, even when searching in Japanese (though I'll admit my grasp of written Japanese is pretty bad).

If you don't mind providing the information you've provided here along with a photo of the piece, you might consider reaching out to nishiki-e art dealers or academics via e-mail to see if they might have a better clue.
posted by BrandonW at 2:19 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

just googling around the "important cultural property" thing seems to be related to some laws about valuable artefacts. there's a registry, but it seems like it was created quite recently, and is mainly for buildings.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2016

I was looking at the Cultural Properties designation a little, and while it mostly covers buildings, the Tangible Properties group also encompasses artworks. Also:

Any alteration to Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures requires governmental permission and exportation is forbidden, except when authorized. The National Treasury supports the conservation and restoration of these items, and the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs provides technical assistance for their administration, restoration, public display and other activities.

If you're really thinking of parting with it, you may want to reach out to the Japanese govt. to see if they're interested in it.
posted by p3t3 at 4:30 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I see you're in Vancouver. You might want to check with a curator at the Rufus Lin Gallery of Japanese Art. You could also talk to the curator of the Institute of Asian Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It's possible you have something that was looted.
posted by FencingGal at 6:13 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm fairly sure it's not a woodblock print, because the lines are very fine and it doesn't have that flat appearance to the surface. I did look into it quite a bit and learned that Mr Otani was a samurai class younger son who was considered somewhat of a wastrel, but who did write an autobiography. He died in the mid-1800's before the restructuring that happened after the end of the Edo period. From what I've read, such collections were designated cultural treasures by the Japanese government.

Like I said, it came from an estate sale, and that estate sale had a lot flashier and more ostentatious things, like fancy lacquer boxes, fans, and jewelry (I also bought a really nice Amita bracelet for two dollars) but this was a very humble little thing that was buried behind a lot of other pictures and was not expensive, but really called out to me in some way. I had a lot of things packed away after downsizing several years ago and I would be interested in selling this item to a collector if it had any worth to it.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:01 PM on April 16, 2016

I was googling some more trying to link Otani Kokichi (大谷孝吉) with the New Otani Hotel chain, whose gallery seems to show and publish Ukiyo-e works from the "Otani Kokichi collection". The hotel was founded by Otani Yonetaro (1881-1968), and while his bio page doesn't mention relation to Kokichi, it does mention that he is affiliated with the Ukiyo-e collection in the footnotes. I also found a few auction pages of exhibition brochure books for parts of the Ukiyo-e collection: one, two.

Also looking at similar works auctioned, it could be worth anything from $20 to $2000 or more.?. Hard to say without an artist name. You probably would need to have a Japanese art dealer/appraiser look at it.

But if the Important Cultural Property designation is real, then at least make sure it goes somewhere that its whereabouts will be known and its preservation will be ensured. I work in Japan and recently helped a local city promote some of their Cultural Properties and National Treasures (Buddhist statues). They are very keen on protecting all of them and rarely send them for overseas exhibitions. I jokingly tried to get the guy to put dollar values on them, but he didn't crack a smile said it's not possible to put a price on them.
posted by p3t3 at 11:36 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, p3t3, the style is very similar to the first picture in your link 'one'. In fact the fan has the same kind of marking in the middle, but in mine that mark looks much more ... vaginal and it's a full-body picture...but the style is very similar.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 12:10 AM on April 17, 2016

Interesting. Here's another similar catalog from the collection.

But most of those links are just used book shops auctioning the catalogs with little info about the artists/works. I didn't find much about artist names in the collection. My link "two" above is a catalog of just the works of one famous Ukioyo-e artist, Toyohara Kunichika, but his style looks a little different to me.

You could search for more info about the Otani collection as a whole - 大谷孝吉コレクション - or combined with "ukiyo-e handdrawn portraits of women" - 肉筆浮世絵の美 - but most of the links I tried provide little more info.
posted by p3t3 at 12:48 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

OMG. It's the picture on the cover of that catalog, the one you linked in 'here's' That's the picture I have.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:00 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Crazy. If it was actually a print rather than drawing/painting then there may be multiple copies in existence.?.. Ukiyo-e usually refers to woodblock prints but in earlier times it was also paintings, or sometimes a mix (i.e. large areas of colors printed, but lines handpainted).
posted by p3t3 at 1:12 AM on April 17, 2016

The picture on the cover of the catalog appears to show a gold-leaf background. Is your picture the *same* as the image on the cover, or is it *very similar*?

At any rate, you are well into find-a-professional territory. Anything you can recall about the estate sale, especially whose estate it may have been, will be helpful. Keep us posted, and enjoy learning about this stuff!
posted by mwhybark at 1:25 AM on April 17, 2016

Yes, the background does look like gold leaf. You can see the texture under the gold of the paper. Wow. There's even a little 'drip' effect around the mark on the fan. It really seems to be painted, you can sort of see brush strokes if you look carefully. I'm now even more intrigued.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:32 AM on April 17, 2016

Found another place selling that same catalog, with a bit more info- this is the original Japanese title: 舞踏図 - searched and found it mentioned here and here (3rd in the series of 4 dancers), both show the kanji, 無款, I think meaning unsigned, i.e. artist unknown, but one dates it to the period 1624-1644. So basically just found all the stuff you already know. Haha. But if you are serious about appraising, these links should be useful for an expert.
posted by p3t3 at 1:46 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Art museums sometimes have a day in which people can show objects to staff for discussion, but the conversations usually revolve around basic information like the medium and techniques used in a work of art. They usually avoid questions of authentication linked to specific artists and also avoid monetary appraisal, as professional standards discourage it. I know you are in Canada, but I am guessing that it works similar to here in the US, where curators are forbidden by their professional society from appraising for the public due to conflicts of interest. Here is a blurb from the American Association of Museums' Code of Ethics for Curators:

"Curators who become involved in establishing the monetary value of objects or
authenticating objects expose themselves and their institution to conflicts of interest and legal risks. Therefore, curators must not prepare appraisals for any reason. ... Some museums may allow curators to provide authentications under carefully controlled conditions per institutional policy."

Your best bet is to hire a private appraiser. Probably the most cost-effective way to do so would be to do an internet appraisal with photos, from a service like Value My Stuff. It costs $15 and you will get an opinion from a true expert, trained in art appraisal.

I would guess that you have a print, given that you have found others that are similar. Assuming that is the case, they range in value from $25 to many thousand. Condition is important, as is the artist, the rarity of the specific print, and the quality of your impression.
posted by mortaddams at 4:53 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

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