This 19th century picnic set includes a carrying box, bottles for saké
(a fermented alcoholic drink made from rice), tiered boxes, trays and
small tray-like plates. Such boxes, although not specifically made for
export from Japan, have found their way into European collections via
servants working in Japan for the Dutch East India Company.
Materials & Technique
The picnic box is decorated with raised lacquer fans on a nashiji
ground, on a wood carcase.
Nashiji, literally ‘pear ground’, is a Japanese term
for lacquer built up in layers with each layer being sprinkled with gold
or silver foil, so that the gold and silver colour floats within the object.
The name comes from the object’s appearance, which looks a bit like the
skin of a pear. Lacquer work was a luxury product, demanding time and
skill and fetching a very high value.
Oriental lacquer comes from the resin of the lacquer tree, the
Rhus vernicifera, which grows in eastern areas of China. It was introduced
to Korea and Japan from the 4th century AD. Lacquer resin is tapped from
the half-grown tree and collected as a translucent liquid which will quickly
thicken and become opaque on contact with the air. It is therefore a good
hard varnish for using on wood furniture. The wood surface is first treated
with a coating of powdered ash mixed with raw lacquer to fill in any irregularities
or joins in the wood. The surface is then covered with an evenly woven
textile coated with lacquer mixed with even finer powders until a smooth
surface is achieved. This is then burnished, ready to receive the outer
coats. There are often some 25 coats!