VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Incense burner
188-1883
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This incense burner (koro) is a superb piece by the artist Suzuki Chokichi. The koro is cast in several pieces: the bowl with handles is one part (cast in sections); the upper part of the burner is a separate section, as is the lid (with separately cast and fixed knob); the base was also cast in sections. It has been naturalistically modelled in the form of a tree stump and roots, with a peacock and peahen standing on it. The tree stump may have been cast from a real piece of wood, a process known to have been carried out by other 19th-century Japanese metalworkers. The extremely realistic detailing of the birds suggests that the artist may have worked from live models. For some of his later work Chokichi kept live birds in his studio so that he could record in minute detail their every attitude and physical detail.

History of the Object
This superb incense burner (koro) by the artist Suzuki Chokichi (here using his ‘art name’ Kako) was displayed at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition. The Japanese government-sponsored manufacturing company Kiryu Kosho Kaisha had a large and successful display in the Japanese pavilion in the exhibition and it was here that Chokichi’s great koro was displayed. Suzuki Chokichi produced some of his greatest work specifically for display at international exhibitions. These events took place at regular intervals and in various cities of the world following the enormous success of the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. They were very significant, both politically and culturally. They were staged to encourage trade, improve international relations and to educate and entertain the public. This object was displayed for many years in pride of place in the V&A's South Court but large-scale Japanese metalwork, and indeed Japanese art in general, began to decline in popularity in the early twentieth century. The incense burner was finally removed from display to languish in museum storage for many decades. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in late nineteenth-century Japanese art. The V&A's Conservation Department worked for over a year to restore the incense burner to its former glory and, on 20 October 1998, Suzuki Chochiki's great masterpiece was returned to display.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Patinated bronze with gilded areas 
Measurements
Width 1280cm Height 2286cm  
Creator name
Suzuki Chokichi 
Creator date
1848-1919 
Where it was made
Japan 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; c.1876 
Function
 
Acquisition
The koro was bought by Siegfried Bing, a prominent Parisian dealer who in 1883 offered the object to V&A declaring it 'the finest piece of bronze which an artist's hand has ever produced'. The V&A paid Bing the astonishing sum of £1,568 7s.2d. for the incense burner and needed special permission from the Treasury to make such a major purchase.  
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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