A Sashi Netsuke, long & flat in form. Each side carved with a Male and Female squatting over a Hibachi warming their posterior. The male naked apart from a fundoshi. The female clothed and nestled over her head a cloth coloured a pearl white over what appears to be a very thin layer of gesso. The hibachi is treated with a thin application of colour which lends to an aged appearance. The phalic shape of the netsuke is obvious, this apparatus in Japan is called a Harigata, in the West we refer to them as a dildo.
The Japanese embrace their sexuality very freely. Netsuke like Ukiyo-e depicted all manner of erotica which appealed to the Chonin, a kind of merchant, middle class which emerged in Japan during the early Tokugawa period. The relationship between netsuke and print is as bonded as a Netsuke is to the Sagemono. The erotic themes which appealed in print known as Shunga, were demanded by the Netsuke wearing merchant. All woodblock artists at some point made Shunga prints and I am convinced all Netsukeshi at some point made Shunga Netsuke. Our Harigata is attributed to Tessai, a brilliant latter period artist known for a sophisticated taste. He encompassed Bugaku and Buddhist themes in his body of work, often with long inscriptions detailing the subject. Tessai’s clientele must have been a wealthy fashionable crowd, insistent on goods made from choice material, noble subject matter and highly crafted. It is difficult, for me at least, to understand how an artist makes such an object look so very refined. Although this netsuke is firmly placed in the Shunga section, a subtleness has been accomplished.
Anonymous. Attributed to Kano Tessai. Last quarter of the 19th Century.