Netsuke of an Eagle Attacking a Monkey by Nakamura Toshimitsu (1801-1860)
The monkey is supine with its right arm pinned down, kicking its legs out desperately and trying with all its might to wrest one claw from its mouth, while another two threaten its tongue and lower jaw. The feathers and hairwork are rendered with loving attention. The pupils of the eyes are distinctive in being placed right at the front of the eyeballs, drilled in the case of the ape, inlaid in that of the bird
Signed on a tail feather: ShusetsukenToshimitsu saku. Hakata. Circa 1820
Toshimitsu is an extraordinarily rare, and therefore scarcely known artist, but has the distinction of having been, with Otoman, the pupil of Bokugyūken Toshiharu. He shares with Otoman the second man/mitsu character of his name. Until Alain Ducros conducted some original research on Otoman in Hakata only one netsuke was tentatively attributable to him, a wood Shoki and oni in the Seattle Art Museum (accession no. 33.333), visible in a dark image on the Museum’s website. In a composition analagous with that here, oni lies on his back and attempts to fight off Shoki. The expression of the ape and the positioning of the eye pupils are characteristics shared with Otoman. This subject of eagle and ape was no doubt borrowed from Bokugyūken Toshiharu (see a Sydney L. Moss advertisement in the Netsuke Kenkyukai Study Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, p. 35). For the fullest account to date of Toshimitsu, see A. Ducros, ‘In Search of Otoman’, in International Netsuke Society Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 34-41. On page 4 he illustrates two further wood netsuke by Toshimitsu, Futen lying on his windbag (Hakata City Museum) and a tengu no tamago. Vienna auctioneers Zacke sold an ivory netsuke of an eagle attacking three monkeys signed Toshimaru in their sale on 28th March 2020, lot 105. As the artist is not recorded, it is possible that this was also by Toshimitsu using a different name. So in all we know of possibly five netsuke by this artist, of which this is certainly the masterpiece.