Zenko Yasuda Kyo Yuteki Tenmoku Chawan

Potter: Zenko Yasuda, Masahiro

Approximate size: W4.5″ by H3.3″ or 11.5 by 8.5 cm

A superb yuteki – oil-spot tenmoku chawan or ceremonial tea bowl by Zenko Yasuda. The bowl is surprisingly light and the formations seen in the glaze show just why exactly – tenmoku is called an ‘oil spot’ glaze. His civilian name was Masahiro Yasuda and he was born in Kyoto in 1926. Yasuda Zenko studied at the Kyoto Craft & Fabric University where he specialized in the making and building of kilns. Afterwards he studied pottery under the 6th Kiyomizu Rokubei (1901-1980). After going independent he build a kiln called Rokushin No Kama in Kyoto. Zenko Yasuda created unique and distinctive stoneware using complex glazing techniques. He passed in 2011 at the age of 86. A well respected 20th century Japanese potter.

The so-called ‘oil spot’ glaze as seen on subject bowl, is much rarer than the streaked glaze. This in part is probably because the timing of the firing is even more critical in order to catch the glaze at the point when the optimum spotting was achieved (but before the glaze ran and created streaking). This glaze effect and the spots themselves seem to stand on top of the glaze and have iridescent halos. In silhouette, trees are painted in a darker colour through which a landscape is created.

Kyo yaki or Kyo ware refers to a style of ceramics that spread from the Higashiyama area in Kyoto during the early Edo period of the Tokugawa rule (henceforth this family line continually ruled Japan for more than 250 years). It was around this time that the art of Chanoyu or the Tea ceremony became popular and widespread in Japan. By contrast, the pottery produced along Gojo-zaka, a street leading to Kiyomizu Temple, was called Kiyomizu yaki. Nowadays all pottery produced in Kyoto is commonly referred to as Kyo or Kiyomizu ware.

Zenko Yasuda (1926-2011), first displayed nationally at the Nitten in 1950. He was awarded the prestigious Japan Ceramic Society Award in 1958 and was subsequently collected by the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1963. Awarded at the Nitten in 1964 followed by the National Modern Crafts Exhibition in 1967 and collected by Japanese Government in 1971 (Gaimusho). A Private Exhibition of the artists work was held in San Francisco in 1978, a rarity for a Japanese artist at that time.

Deep black and brown glazed tenmoku ware was highly prized in the Imperial court of the Chinese Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). Produced in the Jian kilns in Fujian, this type of pottery was brought to Japan by Zen monks who had studied in Chinese monasteries in the twelfth century; later it was treasured by generations of Japanese tea practitioners. The many variations of these wares such as yuteki – oil-spot tenmoku and konoha or leaf tenmoku — both require an extremely careful calculation of firing temperatures for successful glazing. The works on display are the result of a long process of trial and error by potters trained to achieve tenmoku variations and other virtuosic effects.

Excuse the bright reflections from the flash

In a nutshell, Bunten and Teiten were official, state-controlled, juried art exhibitions. Nitten replaced them after the war. The meaning of these official exhibition societies for the world of Japanese arts was pretty comparable to the French Salon in the second half of the nineteenth century. The conservative Salon was the institution most hated by the French impressionists – their works were regularly rejected by the jury. And without a representation by the Salon, an artist had hardly any chance to sell anything to private collectors.

In 1958 he was awarded the Japanese Ceramic Society Prize and ever since then was included in the Nitten. Later in life he also served at the Nitten Exhibition as a member of the jury. His work was acquired by Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1964 and the Museum of Modern Art in Shiga prefecture boasts no less than 10 works in their collection.

After the end of the Pacific war the attribute Imperial was no longer trendy. Everything was reorganized and renamed. In 1946 the Imperial Art Academy became The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, abbreviated as Nitten. The Nitten developed into a larger organization that features multiple departments. Today the Nitten has five art faculties, Japanese Style Painting, Western Style Painting, Sculpture, Craft as Art and Calligraphy.

The chawan is stamped by the potter next to the koudai or foot of the bowl. There are no chips or cracks and condition is mint. Comes with the original high quality, shiho-san paulownia tomobako or storage box with the artist’s calligraphy and seal on the lid, a pamphlet with a simplified biography of Zenko Yasuda and tomonunu or tea-cloth. Out of the small collection of works I managed to get my hands on, this is one of two that has a shiho-san tomobako, testifying to the quality of the work.

€550 + shipping cost

Those interested can follow this link to see an overview of award winning works at the 2001 exhibition held by the Japan Ceramic Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai). Amongst the winners were Living National Treasures, Intangible Cultural Treasures – simply some of the greatest and most famous artists including our subject potter Zenko Yasuda.