Amita Co. artists: Minai, Torahiko Kanamori, Takeshi

Namikawa, Yasuyuki [並河靖之 / 並川靖之] (1845 ~ 1927)

Yasuyuki Namikawa

Yasuyuki Namikawa (並川靖之) was among the most celebrated Japanese enamellers of the Meiji era. He and Namikawa Sosuke were the most famous cloisonne artists of the 1890 to 1910 period, known as the "Golden age" of Japanese enamels. From 1875 to 1915, Yasuyuki won prizes at 51 exhibitions, including at world's fairs and at national exhibitions.
Namikawa Yasuyuki was born on October 1, 1845, in Kyoto as the 3rd son of Takaoka Kurouemon (高岡九郎右衛門), a feudal retainer of the Musashi Province, Kawagoe Domain (currently Tamagata Prefecture). At the age of 10, young Yasuyuki Takaoka was adopted by the Namikawa family, a retainer of the Shoren-in Palace, to become a samurai of Prince Asahiko (朝彥親王). Yasuyuki was in the service of an Imperial prince until around 1867. With the major changes brought about by the Meiji restoration and a Haito Edict (March 1876), prohibiting against wearing swords, Namikawa Yasuyuki, like many others, had to find another form of livelihood. He left the service of the Prince and devoted himself to cloisonne enamels.

Y. Namikawa's first work: box with a Phoenix. Nami­kawa Cloisonne Museum.

Namikawa Yasuyuki started working as an artist around 1868, and from 1871 to 1873 was working for Kinunken. In fall of 1873, Yasuyuki shared 10 yen (~$300 today) with Mosaburo Kirimura (桐村茂三郎) as a capital, and they opened their own cloisonne factory. This 10 yen was the dowry of his wife, whom he had married the previous year, and it was the only money he had. Working hard, in December 1873 he completed his first work, a box with a Phoenix (鳳凰文食籠). This work was originally presented to Imperial Prince Asahiko, but since it was the first commemorative gift, it was later exchanged for another work. The original work is preserved in the Namikawa Cloisonne Museum. By the spring of the following year, 1874, with the help of Kinunken, Namikawa's workshop started to operate in full scale. Shortly after, however, Kirimura noticed that the cloisonne industry has promise, took the workshop craftsman and left, while Yasuyuki was lying in the bed with a slight illness. Perplexed, Yasuyuki consults with Kinunken, who encourages him to continue, and Namikawa resumes operations with the two remaining workers. The workshop, together with the kiln, was located in the compounds of his residence.
At that time, Japan's industry was immature, so the Meiji government encouraged the export of traditional Japanese crafts to Europe and the United States as part of a valuable means of acquiring foreign currency. Yasuyuki followed this trend and exhibited his works at the Kyoto Exposition in 1875, winning a Bronze Medal. He often spent months in producing a single colour effect. Gaining confidence, Yasuyuki began to actively exhibit at foreign expositions. His work won the Silver Medal at the 1878 Paris Exposition two years later.

Workshop of Yasuyuki Namikawa (standing at the back right corner).

Herbert G. Ponting during his visit to Japan in early 1900s had an opportunity to meet Y. Namikawa personally. An excerpt from his book, "In the Lotus Land - Japan" (1910), describing the workshop interior and the firing room, says:
On all the floor of this room, which was the birthplace of so many peerless examples of this art, now treasured in all parts of the world, one might search in vain for a spot of dirt, so cleanly is the process. One end of the room was shelved for the reception of the bronze and silver vases that are used as foundation for the enamel-work, and for some hundreds of bottles filled with mineral powders of every shade and colour. These were the materials for the enamel. The intimate knowledge of these powders can only be obtained by many years of patient study, for the colours change completely when in a state of fusion. Not only must the artist know exactly the shade of colour he desires, but how to obtain that colour ultimately by using one which is perhaps its diametrical opposite. Only by great skill and knowledge can confusion be avoided. Above the cabinet there was a foreign-looking clock, ticking off the hours and days, and sometimes years, that pass, as the works of art created here slowly assume the appearance which they will ultimately present to the world.

Y. Namikawa, loading the object into the kiln in the firing room.

After inspecting the workshop I was shown the firing room, and here, too, everything was clean and neat to a fault. There were two small furnaces, and in the centre of the room a brick platform on which a kiln could be rapidly made, from firebricks, for any sized muffle that might be desired. The bricks are arranged round the muffle, leaving a space of several inches to be filled with charcoal.
Namikawa himself attends to the firing, perhaps the most important part of the whole process, for on it depends the success or failure of all the work preceding it. Any error in the degree of heat would ruin all. On the fusing depends not only the proper setting and colour of the enamel, but also, in a very large degree, the richness of lustre and freedom from air-holes in its surface—one of the principal beauties of the finest cloisonne. Namikawa told me that some colours present much greater difficulties than others to fuse successfully, and that large monochrome surfaces require more skill than small cloisons.
In 1877, Namikawa took care of Prince Asahiko's 4th son Tada (later Prince Nashimoto Morimasa, 梨本宮守正王) and 5th daughter Ayako (later Princess Ayako Takenuchi, 竹内絢子), serving in the palace as their teacher for two years. In the end of 1878 Namikawa resigned from the palace after getting a business offer from the Yokohama based Strachan company (ストロン商会), returning full-time to the cloisonne business. Still, his relationship with the Imperial family continued, and Yasuyuki constantly visited the palace and often accompanied the Imperial family in their travels between Tokyo and Kyoto.
In 1879 Namikawa worked as an exposition judge in Kyoto Prefecture. In the same year he invented the brilliant mirror-black and transparent cloisonne enamels. In 1881 he worked as a purveyor to a painting school. Gottfried Wagner (1831~1892), a German chemist in the employ of the Japanese government, who had a great influence on Kyoto's cloisonne, critisized Yasuyuki's work exhibited at the National Industrial Exposition. He adviced Yasuyuki to study and practice more. Yasuyuki was upset with Wagner's remarks, but Strachan company, feeling sorry for him, took Yasuyuki to the 2nd National Industrial Exhibition held in Tokyo in 1881 in order to encourage him to learn more. Seeing the high quality Owari cloisonne there, Yasuyuki realized that he was indeed limited in his experience and knowledge. After returning to Kyoto he dismissed half of his employees and scaled back his business. He then went to Tokyo again at his own expense, constantly attended expositions, visited cloisonne factories, traveled around Nikko and other places to broaden his knowledge. Upon returning to Kyoto he dismissed all of his employees but 5 newly hired boys.

A pair of vases by Y. Namikawa showing various shades of blue.

During 1880s Namikawa Yasuyuki produced high-class wired cloissone artworks that took a lot of time and effort, sometimes taking a year to make. He used strips of silver and gold wire to create partitions between areas of differently colored enamel. Furthermore, the wire itself was used as a color. Sosuke Namikawa (1847~1910), after establishing a cloisonne factory in Tokyo, invited Yasuyuki Namikawa to become the technical expert, and the two succeeded in making wireless cloisonne (sectioning off colors without the metallic bands) and in producing colors of darker and lighter shades. By 1893 Yasuyuki's works were free of supporting background wires, allowing open areas unobstructed by cloisons.
In early 1890s Yasuyuki's business was at its peak. Foreigners often came directly to the his house to buy cloisonne, so in 1890 a storehouse was built and used as a shop in order to make the house suitable for welcoming tall foreigners. In 1893, the main building was built in traditional Kyo-machiya (town house) style (now Namikawa Cloisonne Museum).
Yasuyuki's high skill was also recognized by the government. On May 29, 1893, he was awarded the Medal of Honor with a Green Ribbon. On June 30, 1896, Namikawa Yasuyuki was appointed as an Imperial Household Artist (帝室技芸員, Teishitsu Gigei-in), who is an artist who was officially appointed by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan to create works of art for the Tokyo Imperial Palace and other imperial residences. The system came into being during the Meiji period in 1890 and was discontinued after the end of World War II. From 1890 to 1944, only 79 individuals were appointed to the position, including Namikawa Yasuyuki, who also is one of the only two cloisonne artists in this list (the other one is Namikawa Sosuke). Namikawa Yasuyuki was also promoted to the rank of Jushichii (従七位), one of the ranks in the Japanese rank system of the time.

Two cloisonne vases made by Y. Namikawa for the Imperial House.

In 1906, a special order was received from the Awards and Decorations Bureau to start the production of medals, and a factory was established in Yawata, Negishi-cho, Shitaya, Tokyo. However, in 1910s due to high labor costs, rising prices and a decrease in foreign tourists, the export volume of cloisonne greatly decreased, and 90% of the sales were from overseas demand. Cloisonne industry suffered a major crysis. Therefore, in July 1923, Yasuyuki made the decision to close down his workshop before he incurred a large loss. After closing the business, he retired and built a 330 meter squared pond with water from the Lake Biwa Canal to the north of Yamashina Station.

Namikawa Yasuyuki in his residence: feeding the carps with his daughter, Tokuko (left) and a view on the garden (right). Recreated from stereographs of Underwood Co. 1904.

Four years later, on May 24, 1927, Yasuyuki Namikawa died of arteriosclerosis at the age of 83. After his death, he was conferred the rank of Jushichii (Junior Seventh Rank) by the Imperial Household Agency. The medals factory in Tokyo, inherited by the Yasuyuki's adopted daughter Tokuko, stayed in business until 1929, two years after Namikawa's death.

Addresses and locations
Examples (from the web)