Naito Koseki (1871-1948)

Kyoto, circa 1910

A grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa

A grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa, his unsheathed sword trailing from his other hand as he realises that he has slain the very object of his desire.

His eyes are closed in anguish and his body seems to sag as he grasps the head by its hair. The long tresses flow like rivulets down his outstretched arm, the sense of movement echoed in the folds of his costume, combining to create a suggestion of grief. (In Japanese painting tradition the flowing movement of drooping branches a weeping willow are emblematic of a young woman’s tears). There is an old repair to one foot, as noted in N.K. Davey’s Netsuke.

This legendary carving depicts the subject of a kabuki play, the tragic story of a beautiful and faithful wife, Kesa, who is pursued relentlessly by Endo Morita. Fearing that her honour and her husband’s life are in danger, she hatches a plan and suggests to Morita that he should come quietly to her home at night and slay her husband while he is asleep. Believing he will at last win her, Morita enters the bedroom under cover of darkness and cuts the head from the sleeping form – only to discover that Kesa had deliberately taken her husband’s place in the bed and the he has instead murdered the woman he loved.

Koseki was a celebrated sculptor of Buddhist statuary. He studied under Tanaka Mondo (1857-1917) until he was thirty years old. His most celebrated work is an Amida Buddha created to celebrate the refurbishment of the Amida Hall at Enrakuji in Kyoto. He was not a professional carver of netsuke, but is known to have received commissions for four netsuke from Oscar Raphael and Walter L Behrens when they visited Japan, this piece being created for Behrens in 1910.

Koseki also gifted a Gyodo mask netsuke to a British collector in 1913. Three of these five pieces are now in the collection of the British Musem.

Detail of grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa
Detail
A grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa
Side view
A grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa
Side view

Provenance:
Walter Lionel Behrens collection
V-F. Weber collection
W. Guest collection
Isobel Sharpe collection
Mark T. Hindson collection
Victor Topper collection
Larry Caplan collection

Published:
Joly, W.L, Catalogue of the Behrens collection, London 1922, lot 379
Weber, V-F., Koji Hoten, Paris 1923, 184
Flagel, L., Objets d’Art du Japon I. Appartenant à Monsieur W. Guest, Hotel Drouot, 1934, lot 1329
Hurtig, Bernard, Masterpieces of Netsuke Art, 1973, pl. 732
Bushell, Raymond, Collectors’ Netsuke, 1971, p. 167, pl. 304
Davey, N..K, Netsuke, 1982,N504
Hurtig, Helen, INCS, vol.7 no.1, p.32
Lazarnick, G., Netsuke and Inro Artists, Honolulu, 1981, p. 673

Signed on the sword scabbard: Koseki to

Height: 11.6cm

Signature Naito Koseki
Signature Naito Koseki