Project Description

Large and Rare Wood Netsuke of Two Oni

The demons sit side by side, facing in opposite directions, pulling on an imaginary rope represented by the sagemono cord which would run between their hands.  In the manner of such guardians as koma-inu and nio, one has his mouth open, the other closed.  But the differences between them go further: the one wearing a simple fundoshi (loincloth) has startling wide open eyes inlaid with glass or crystal, probably painted behind with black pupils, a simple plump face and long smooth locks of hair.  His companion sports the tiger shorts of some oni, supported by a web of harnessing which might get some excited.  His eyes are more simply inlaid with dark pupils, while he has the sort of jaw one sometimes sees on netsuke of kirin, and his features and hair are carved in markedly more detail than the other oni’s. Both have inlaid bone horns which seem convincing as original

Unsigned.  Circa 1790.

Height: 4.3 cm Width: 5.6 cm

This is the most fascinating of combinations, strongly suggestive of a collaboration between two carvers.  The plump faced demon is indubitably the work of an anonymous carver associated with “chain himotoshi”.  For similar examples, see Bandini, In a Nutshell, p. 25, nos. 20, 22 and 24. The composition is very close to another extraordinary netsuke in Scholten Japanese Art’s ‘Expressions of Style, Netsuke as Art’, no. 69, in which two oni, one with open, one with closed mouth, dressed in the same way as in our netsuke, also haul on an imaginary cord.  Those of us who admire Sanko had already speculated that the Scholten netsuke might be his work. The same question arises now, as the more detailed head is so suggestive of his work, while the head of the other is not.

Collaborations in netsuke are extremely rare and would normally be indicated by the presence of two signatures. The differences of style of the heads at the very least raises a question