MORIMITSU 盛光, Genryusai SEIYA 源龍斎誠谷

(Japanese, Meiji Era 1868-1912)

Elephant attacked by two Tigers

Bronze 13.0 x 20.1 in. (33 x 51 cm.)

Signed MORIMITSU 盛光, SEIYA chû 誠谷鑄

Morimitsu_Elephant attacked by two tigers



Japanese Meiji bronze sculpture of an elephant crying out in rage as he is under attack from two tigers, one clawing up his back, the other being trampled underfoot, its tusks of ivory.

Meiji Era

In the 50 years leading up to the dawn of the 20th century, Japan transformed itself from an isolated feudal nation to a world power. The traditional arts seemed doomed to extinction as the country raced to modernize its industries.

However, after the young Emperor Meiji assumed the throne in 1868 and prohibited sword-wearing and disestablished Buddhism swordsmiths, sword decorators and bronze-casters, Japan's new leaders realised that the historic skills of the metalworker, lacquerer, enameller and ceramic artist could play a vital part in the struggle to compete in international markets and to demonstrate the brilliance of Japanese craftsmanship.  Japan opened its treasures to the world.

Before long, visitors to international exhibitions in Europe and America were confronted with astonishing displays of Japanese artistic creativity and technical virtuosity. They were dazzled, amazed and awed at the sight of ceramics, textiles, and sculpture of such unsurpassed artistry, astonishing intricacy, and a degree of technical perfection never even conceived of in the West.

The masterpieces of Meiji art, in a unique style blending the best of traditional design with prevailing international taste, are unrivalled in the quality of their craftsmanship and were avidly sought by Western collectors.  Japanese bronzes were, for example, successfully shown at the Vienna international exposition of 1873 and the 492 works submitted by Japanese artists to the Nuremburg metalwork exhibition in 1885 won widespread admiration, the first prize going to Suzuki Chokichi (1848-1919) for a great bronze eagle.

In more recent times, however, they have been neglected by common scholars and collectors alike, leaving appreciation to a select number of connoisseurs.  Time for a rediscovery.