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Ninnami Dōhachi 仁阿弥道八 (1783-1855)
[Takahashi Dōhachi II] 高橋道八

A Black Raku-style Teabowl with Crane Décor

Diameter: 10.2 cm. (4 in.)
Height: 8.9 cm. (3 1/2 in.)

Late Edo period
Late 18th-early 19th century

Provenance: A Japanese collection

A thick-walled bowl with irregular vertical sides and undulating mouth rim, a roughly cut narrow foot surrounding a recessed base, covered overall with a black glaze of porous nature and gleaming surface with opaque white-glaze images of a larger and smaller crane embedded in the dark.

Dōhachi’s chawan is stored in a double wooden box along with inscriptions and paraphernalia expected for a treasured possession of an advocate of tea drinking in Japan. These repeatedly refer to Dōhachi’s “crane decorated Raku chawan.”1 The ability to produce so successfully Raku-style ceramics was one of Dōhachi’s many claims to fame. Raku ware was typically made by hand rather than wheel thrown or mold pressed, lead-glazed, and subjected to fast firing and forced cooling. Raku was the name bestowed by the tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522 –1591), who inspired the creation of this special ware, upon its potter, Chōjirō, and the name passed down to Chōjirō’s successors. A black-glazed crane-decorated teabowl by a late successor, Raku IX (Ryōnyū) (1810–1838), was the kind of model Dōhachi, who was deeply beholden to predecessors and some contemporaries, could have followed (fig.1). In creating such pictorial images, Chōjirō’s followers had moved away from the stark simplicity, the power of form, and glaze with its natural appearance and mutations alone, adding a new flavor and dimension while retaining much of the basic character of the ware.

Dōhachi reached across the world of ceramic styles native to Kyoto, inspired by, absorbing, recreating and reinterpreting a range of techniques and styles while being mentored by some of Kyoto’s great potters, his father, Takahashi Dōhachi (1782-1804), the first to have exerted influence on the young potter.2 Ninnami seems to have fearlessly approached all options. He might recreate something by Eisen, Hozen or Kenzan, to name but a few of Ninnami’s sources and he might create more than one version of a particular vessel. Another teabowl by Dōhachi, for example, is decorated with a white crane on one side of the black bowl and a turtle on the interior (fig. 2), and a further crane-decorated bowl is ascribed in the Royal Ontario Museum to a date betweeen1840-1879 and, if correct, would have been made by a successor (fig. 3).

At the same time, Ninnami was himself a mover and an influencer beyond his role as a hands-on master potter. Having become his father’s heir at the death of his elder brother, he established his own kiln in the Kiyomizu area of Kyoto and, given his stellar reputation, went on to establish kilns for and to act as a consultant in matters of ceramic production for various daimyo families. Such association with Japanese nobility also gave him access to collections that would inspire him in his own personal creative life.

1. Inscriptions from the two boxes:
– On the inner box lid Dōhachi wrote: “Crane image, black teabowl, Dōhachi.” That inscription is repeated on the paper protecting the lid.
– On the side of the box is a label reading: “Wa-Jirushi number 9; Dōhachi made a crane decorated black Raku teabowl; teabowl.”
– Two slips in the box were written in 1931 by Kohitsu Ryoshin (1872-1953), 13th in the Kohitsu family lineage specializing in the authentication of works of art.
– The outer box front face is inscribed by Dōhachi the 8th [1938-2011], stating, “Old Man Ninnami made the black Raku chawan with a painting of cranes, Dōhachi the 8th authenticated”: followed by a conch shell-shaped seal.
– The paper on the outer box lid reads: “Black Raku painting of a crane chawan. Ninnami Dōhachi box inscribed by the artist; authentication card included. Dōhachi 8th authenticated on the outer box.”
– Two small tags attached to the ties on the outer box. One tag on back and front reads: “Dōhachi black; painting of a young crane; box inscribed by the artist.” The second reads: “Tea bowl, black Raku; painting of a young crane; made by Dōhachi; box inscribed by the artist and Dōhachi the 8th authenticated.”

2. See Ninnami Dohachi: An Observant and Brilliant Potter, Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo, 2014, an exhibition of 184 works illustrated in color, primarily work by Ninnami but including that of his father and his followers.


Fig. 1: Raku IX (Ryōnyū) (1810–1838): Black Raku teabowl with pine and crane design, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, after Raku-ware.

Fig. 2: Ninnami Dōhachi {(1783-1855}: Black Raku teabowl with crane and turtle images, Tokyo National Museum, after Nihon Tōji Zenshū, vol. 30 (Ninnami-Hozen), Tokyo, 1977, pl. 18.

Fig. 3: Raku-style crane decorated black teabowl, probably 1840-1879, Royal Ontario Museum, after raku-type-kyoto-ware-with-crane?ctx=4ae717ce-5b74-472e-bd0f-8ebd6df26ac9&idx=0



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