E.V. from Montecito owns an old and fragile Japanese screen with a fabulous provenance. The artist signature in the chop reads Tosa Hironobu; Tosa is also a specific style of late 18th to early 19th century screens. She would like to have the delicate paper, which I suspect is mulberry-plant based, restored.
50 years ago, E.V. and her husband built a Japanese style home in Beverly Hills. Her architect took a buying trip to Japan in 1966 and returned with this 6-panel screen from Tokyo, from the 1830’s, by the imperial artist. I know this because the screen bears the royal mark of the Chrysanthemum. The screen portrays a dance under maple trees in the Royal Garden with emperor and empress attended by court musicians. E.V. sends the export certificate. Thus, E.V. and I have two subjects to discuss: the export certificate and my quest for a paper restorer for her screen.
First, the Japanese art market has been independent and flourishing for thousands of years and the opening of the market to the West is 100+ years recent. Japan has never experienced long-term foreign rule, so Japan’s cultural patrimony has been relatively secure. The Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs oversees dealers, museums and collectors. Preservation laws limit artworks exported out to government discretion. The Ministry of Education designates important cultural property. Over 10,000 objects are protected and can’t be exported under threat of imprisonment.
If a Japanese citizen wants to sell internationally, and the object is in a protected class, a collection of experts decides on a fair price and buys it for the state, or arranges a sale to a Japanese museum. Of course, some fantastic art was unfortuitously exported during the American Occupation. Another unfortunate time for Japanese exports was the late 19th century, when Japan opened to Western culture. In 1870-80, the American philosophy professor Ernest Fenollosa, at Tokyo University, saw treasures shipped away, and organized Japan’s first National Census of Artwork, assembling his own large collection that is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Art.
Notably, for E.V., during the 1960’s, when this screen was exported, an American connoisseur couple, Jackson and Mary Burke, were building a large collection of Japanese art, working closely with the Japanese government to permit certain (presently unexportable) artworks to be exported. E.V.’s architect may have benefited from this temporary lack of rigidity when he purchased this screen for E.V. in 1966. In conversation with E.V. she owns another screen brought back with the same architect, which also pictures a theme from a Japanese legend.
The second question of who restores such a treasure locally is more difficult. I turned to Winterthur Museum where I studied briefly, remembering the crack team of paper conservators. Michelle Sullivan was lately on that team: she is now at the J. Paul Getty Conservation Institute. The Getty does not provide conservation services for private clients, but I learned that Michelle Sullivan is a director of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) which has a researchable directory of private conservators. Locally, my old colleague Scott Haskins of FACL is a member; he is listed as an expert on painted surfaces; however, I have known him to undertake any challenge with expertise. Patricia West of SB is also a local conservator listed for her expertise in ceramics, gilding, paintings and woodworks. Chail Norton, in SB, is listed as an expert of art on paper, specifically non-Western art on paper. Her bio states that she worked in paper conservation at LACMA for 15-years and is now in private practice.
E.V., just to put the icing on the cake, I researched the value of your screen. A similar Tosa School 6-panel screen in ink, colors and gold leaf with gofun highlights on paper depicting a scene from Japanese legend “The Tale of Genji" by poetess Murasaki Shikibu, (which is the subject of E.V.’s other screen) portrays a delightful moment; the princess’s cat upsets the blinds that shield her beauty from suitors. This sold for $2500 at Neal Auctions New Orleans. Another Tosa School late 18th century screen, also 6-panels, depicting legendary poets from the “Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry,” ink on silver leaf, sold at Skinner’s Boston for $2500. A certificate (which adds to the value) accompanied this screen. E.V.’s screen is more valuable than the two comparable screens above, because neither of these two has artist’s signatures, and would put its replacement cost closer to $10,000.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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