A couple of years ago I purchased a pot from Toriumi on eBay that neither he nor I could identify(actually a LOT of pots, this one just happened to remain so!). I asked all my friends in Japan, checked the books: no dice.
Knowing what I know now, I’m surprised I did not see it sooner, but since I bought it the pot has been languishing on one of my back benches with a small clump of hackberry, gaining some patina: out of sight, out of mind.
My friend Keiichi Hanaori translated the signature for me, “山水作”-“San Sui made”. And surmised that it was perhaps a description, rather than a potter, as it is a mountain and water scene(San-mountain, Sui-water).
Now, the pot.
In the item description, the seller gives no information about the potter…but says he bought it from Bigei at his studio in Tokoname 30 years ago…Duh.
After looking closely at the pot, and going back and taking a look at my pot, that’s all I needed to know: the pots are definitely Bigei made.
Two images of a carved Bigei in an identical style and shape to the second “Sansui”. Note the feet, shape, and inset recess and placement of the tie down holes on the underside are all the same as the round “Sansui.”
Looking at these images, it’s pretty obvious these are Bigei made pots, but are they painted by Bigei as well, thus making “Sansui” just a pseudonym Bigei uses for painted pots?
Another Bigei carved landscape with an identical motif: thatched hut nestled into the hills with a boat to the right.
The style of the pair of small boats to the upper right of the first “Sansui”, in appearance, spacing, and proportion, are identical to the pair on this piece:
Not by any means 100% conclusive, it’s entirely possible that Bigei designed the scenes and commissioned someone else to paint them, but, given that the lone signature was carved by the maker of the pot, which is definitively Bigei, and not painted, and the fact that Bigei has no small talent in landscape scenes with a nail, I think it’s pretty clear that Bigei both made and painted these pots.
So, there you have it. An interesting little mystery wrapped up. Bigei is Sansui, and vice versa. Although these Bigei landscape painting pots have their own charm, its clear that Bigei’s talents lie more in carving and burnishing than landscape painting, but perhaps that’s the point of the pseudonym?
Thanks for reading!