28 February until 26 May 2019
Pure Luxury
East Asian Lacquer

In the spring of 2019, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) looked at the more luxurious side of material culture in China, Korea, and Japan – the art of lacquer. Brilliant black, intense red, shimmering gold, and mysterious mother-of-pearl dominate this lacquerware, which enhances all areas of life for society’s elite, including dining, writing, travel, music, jewellery and tea culture. Beginning in the late sixteenth century, lacquerware was also much admired at the European courts, attracting many collectors and imitators. Justus Brinckmann (1843–1915), the founding director of MKG, established the museum’s lacquer collection during the heyday of Japonism around 1900. Based on a selection of exquisite bowls, combs and jewellery as well as boxes for cosmetics, writing utensils, games and food, the present exhibition gives insights into MKG’s acquisition policy and the international collecting scene for East Asian artefacts between the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. In addition to the major object groups, the show also presented the main lacquer techniques, characteristic motifs, individual masters and their paintings as well as colour woodcuts. Modern and contemporary artworks as insect specimens and   lacquer chairs complemented the presentation of historical holdings, demonstrating the reciprocal influences between lacquer aesthetics and European design. The didactically prepared exhibition of this important chapter in the collection’s history aimed to spark visitors’ interest in the lacquer art of East Asia while at the same time contributed to provenance and market research into East Asian art history. With over 100 objects on view, the show represented the initial results of a research project on the museum’s East Asian collection, funded by the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius.

Photo: Higuchi Akihiro (*1969), Mitate Urushi – Shimazu Family (Samurai), 2018 (detail, rotated), stag beetle specimen, laquer (urushi), gold, silver, Property of Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen, Photo: Mikiko Sato Gallery, Hamburg © Higuchi Akihiro