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Yosegi writing desk with crates.

Worked in marquetry.

Rich decoration in geometric figures and floral motifs. A richly decorated desk, worked in marquetry with geometrical figures and stylized floral motifs.  The facade opens in nine drawers and two sliding doors.  It overhangs on a plan of sliding work.  The lower section is composed of two drawers and two crates, each of them resting on a non-moveable baseboard.  The drawing buttons are worked on turned wood.  One of the baseboards is signed.

Japan, Meiji period, second part of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century.

Height: 47.6 inches.Length: 38.4 inches. Depth: 18.9 inches.


collection of René Clément, moviemaker.


100 kilometers to the south of Tokyo lays the small city of Hakone.  The tenth of the 53 stations of Tokaido, the city is famous for its water sources, but also for a particular type of artwork, the result of a complex procedure: the Yosegi marquetry.  Born at the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1667), this small production is characterized for its motifs inspired in the traditional kimono. Works are accomplished with a wide variety of woods.  This is rendered possible thanks to the rich diversity of trees that can be found on the mountains of the region.  Once destined to please local travelers, the cabinetmakers soon took on a formidable passion. 

Between the years of 1862 and 1912, Japan lived a cultural, political and social revolution: the Minji period.  Up to then, the country had remained completely closed to foreigners.  Some occidental countries, the United States at the head of them all, pressed for this policy of voluntary isolation to come to an end.  It was in the year of 1862 that this finally happened.  Transformation touched on all territories: state reforms, industrial changes… The opening of Japan’s borders to the world allowed for an international tourist movement to be born.  Under the international influence, the marquetry works of the Hakone region became more important.  Cabinetmakers began to produce pieces of furniture of bigger dimensions.  Pieces of furniture which, from an aesthetic point of view, had nothing in them any more of traditionally Japanese.  Success was huge.  Hakone pieces of furniture would be presented in various universal expositions: Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), and Paris (1878).  This writing desk, occidental in its form, is ornamented with marquetry inspired in kimonos, as had been done for centuries.  It is, thus, a perfect example of this transitional Japan, at the same time progressive and attached to its secular traditions.

Our piece of furniture can be related to two cylinder desks, one from the collection of the viscountess of Courvall, sold at Sotheby’s Paris on March 25, 2014 (lot 116), the other one sold at Zeller’s, in Germany, on July 13 2012 (lot number 2203). 

Karl Benz

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