Among painters of bonsai pottery, no one is more well known and lauded than Tsukinowa Yusen. His real name was 加藤護一(Kato Goichi), and he lived from 1908 to 1998. He was born in Gifu, and moved to Kyoto to study painting while working in the studios of Kiyomizu pottery. After becoming increasingly interested in pottery, he studied under 石黒宗磨(Sekikoku Soma?). He was forced into hard labor during the war, and as a result was in poor health the rest of his life.
Bonsai was a hobby for him, and in 1961 he began making pots for his own trees.
His painted pots represent the pinnacle of Bonsai pottery painting technique, and today, it is estimated than only a hundred or so exist. He is most famous for his versions of Ando’s “53 Stations of the Tokaido Road”, though other well-known motifs include the famous anthropomorphic animals of Kozan, mountain landscape scenes, water scenes featuring birds, and pictorial scenes of famous poetry(see Sam Edge’s excellently researched articles on pieces from American Frank Cucchiara’s collection of Yusens for more on this):
Tsukinowa Yusen-In Search Of An Answer
Not only is Yusen famous for his own work, but he is, perhaps, one of the most famous collaborators in bonsai pottery history as well. Collaborations between Yusen and SeiFu Yohei are perhaps most famous and often seen, but other collaborative pots abound as well, notably with Kutani Ikko, who we’ll look at in depth in a future post.
In contemporary bonsai porcelain painting, no painter is more imitated and duplicated than Yusen. While Yusen looked to old scroll paintings and poetry for inspiration, modern painters simply look to Yusen! It’s far less common to see a pot that is an homage to the Chojugiga (anthropomorphic animals) scroll paintings of Kozan, than to see a copy of Yusen’s homage to them! Homages to Yusen’s work abound, some good and some great, and we’ll take a look at a few of those here too.
Yusen hard at work painting in his studio, circa 1980, 72 years old. Note how closely positioned to the table he is (for support in painting those sublime details, perhaps?), and the thinness of the brush being used!
Settle in for a long read, I’m going to split this up into two posts to make reading on the phone a bit easier for you non-computer users(like me!).
Up first we’ll take a look at a few we’ve seen before, then in to new material, and in the next post, Glazed and unglazed Yusen, Yusen Homage pots, and Shohin bonsai trees in Yusen pots.
Now, on to the pots!
We’ll start off with the rarest and the priciest! Yellow window pots like this from Yusen are few, and VERY expensive, as only a handful exist. Great patina, and note the great feet and ceramic work, clean, flawless. No drip to the window, or blurring. Yusen was nearly as great a potter as painter, a true rarity.
Here are the only others I believe exist. You can study them for your selves. I, for one, am speechless. We’ll see homage versions of this style Yusen in the next post from Takao Koyo.
A red painted round porcelain pot, showing some nice patina on the rim. Porcelain patinates at a fraction of the rate of other glazes and unglazed clay, so porcelain pots showing patina are much more valuable and tough to find. This pot is a prime example of why Yusen’s work is prized. Note the detailed brushwork, the full wraparound landscape, the flawless porcelain…gorgeous.
A five color painted landscape, with tall feet. This pot style is common to Yusen pots, and often seen holding lovely deciduous semi-cascades and cascades in the Gafu-Ten shows. Again, marvelous detailed landscape, really great ceramic work.
Another go-sai pot to contrast with the previous piece. No feet to speak of, and much softer lines to the pot all around…how cool is that? The pot is softer, more feminine, and the painting mirrors that change precisely! Softer lines and brushwork, more negative space, softer details…wow.
A Yusen Suiban with blue landscape. Great use of negative space, flawless porcelain. I have no clue how many of these exist…less than a handful I’m sure, as this is the only one I’ve seen.
Another red with great brushwork and details. Less negative space here, needs a busy tree to compliment it.
A simple pot with the tall feet common to Yusen pots. Great details and brushwork.
A rare, tall Yusen cascade pot. Note the highly detailed grove that’s the focus, with it’s clearing at the base, seemingly in a valley. A great sense of depth in a two dimensional painting.
A highly detailed sometsuke Yusen showing the horse and rider so prevalent in much of Yusen’s landscape paintings. Excellent details for such small work! Remember: most of these pots are 4.5″ and under!!
From the opposite side and corner, we can see the full wraparound painting, and that the rear features another very common image in Yusen’s work, a boat out on the water.
Two sides of a Yusen with painted landscapes interspersed between geometric patterns. The pattern work is superb, as are the brush details to the landscapes. The feet and rim are nice as well. A really nice example of multiple types of Yusen’s skill with the brush, and the clay.
A sometsuke Yusen showing two fisherman collecting crab traps. The details to the figures are exceptional, and the sense of depth created by the water receding into the mountains in the distance is superb. A charming and everyday seaside scene made immortal.
Two sides, from the corner, of a superbly painted sometsuke book Yusen with feet that are characteristic for semi-cascade and cascade Yusen. The details in this small pot are simply outstanding, I’m especially charmed by the weeping tree in the second image, it looks to be willow, or perhaps wisteria with the flowers just blooming.
A pair of Yusens, in red and blue, showing the characteristic motifs of birds, and a waterscape with boat, the pilot staring off into the distance at the newly risen moon. Probably the highlight of someone’s collection, a box was commissioned for storage of the two together, despite not being a matched pair in shape, theme, or color.
An up close look at an akae Yusen similiar to the one above, showing the typical birds frolicking in a meadow. The patina on this piece is outstanding.
A Waterscape with boat and pilot playing the flute. It appears as if the moon has just risen on the horizon. Yusen’s subjects are always evocative of a moment in time, barely captured, like the Western Impressionists, at least ideologically. Another piece showing an outstanding patina. When considering the patina on these, keep in mind that Yusens are 52 years old, max, and the majority 30-40 years old, his peak production years. That’s a lot of patina for 30 years!
A Yusen figure painted pot, on porcelain insets. The details to the figures are lovely, and the tall pot charming. Excellent patina, as well. Another great piece.
An akae painted Yusen with box. I love the small copse between the houses, with it’s mix of tree species, an the negative space off to the left. Note the flow of the lighter red to the ground and cover, it straight up points to the negative space to the left. An excellent example of directionality in painted pots.
Another Sometsuke blue rectangle, this one with a cliffside scene. Note the mix of both deciduous and evergreen species of trees, and the excellent depth to the painting. In contrast to some of the above pots, one can really see Yusen’s skill at both near and far view landscape scenes.
Another Akae painted pot, this one a round, very much traditional Kiyoto ware style, with it’s geometrics and small window landscape.
Four different views of a sometsuke square Yusen, showing most of the prevalent themes in his work. This one has it all: multiple tree species, near and far views, mountain landscape, and waterside scene with boat. A couple of birds and a horseback rider and it would be ultimate(not that it’s not, it’s pretty damn nice no matter how you look at it)!!
And we’ll move on to the next post after this awesomely painted Akae cascade pot. The pot itself is sublimely made, with it’s delicate, thin walled construction and shape, and the painting is a perfect mix of Kiyomizu style geometrics and highly detailed Yusen landscape. A beautiful image, beautiful pot.