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Subject:Old Ivory Horse and demon carving
Posted By: Michael Sat, Sep 01, 2018 IP: 2600:1700:1ff0:58a0:

Hello -
This seems to be a very old ivory carving of horse and demon. There is grain and is definitely not resin. It seems to be very smooth from handling and the back of horse is white where no finger oils got to it. Does anyone have info on possible age or origin? It seems more Chinese than a japanese netsuke.....

Subject:Re: Old Ivory Horse and demon carving
Posted By: Bill H Mon, Sep 03, 2018

I'll let the ivory experts here decide if your carving is Japanese or Chinese, but the creature on the horse's rump looks like it may be a tiger to me. So if I'm correct, the carving could represent the Chinese idiomatic expression, 'Ma ma hu hu' (馬馬虎虎), literally 'Horse horse, tiger tiger', with a meaning of 'Careless'.

There are variations on just how this saying came about, one being the story of an artist who starts painting a Horse, but before it's finished, he gets an urgent offer from a client to paint a tiger. So he stops the horse painting and simply paints in a tiger's head on the steed. The client rejects such an absurdity, so the artist has nothing to do with the painting except hang it at home. When the artist's son asks his father what the painting represents, the artist lies to the gullible boy, saying it is a horse. To make a longer story shorter, the son winds up getting eaten when he later tries to ride a tiger. Thus the meaning of careless.

A happier ending is represented by another three dimensional rebus with symbolic meaning shown below, featuring a 'monkey riding a horse’, spoken as 'Ma shang feng hou' (馬上風猴), which is homonymic of another 'Ma shang feng hou' (馬上封侯) meaning 'An immediate promotion will be received'. As usual, there are variations of this saying too.

Best regards,

Bill H.

Subject:Re: Old Ivory Horse and demon carving
Posted By: Stan Wed, Sep 05, 2018

First, I always enjoy Bill H's telling of an Asian myth. Thanks for that, Bill.

I can't say for certain whether it is a netsuke or not. You give no measurements. There is what could be an attachment point under the lion's tail. Note, the hole is very circular indicating that, if it is a netsuke, it hasn't had much use.

If presented with your horse/lion, I wouldn't buy it. In my opinion it is recent. My reasoning follows.

Below you will see four netsuke. The right 3 were purchased at auction in Oct. 2005. The New Orleans Museum of Art was deaccessioning some artifacts to raise money after Hurricane Katrina. So, while those 3 could be considered "museum quality", they were the first to go in a pinch.

The water buffalo has been reliably dated to circa 1930. My guess is that the snake and the toad on a bamboo stump are somewhat older. Note the patina.

That was a long winded way of getting to my point that I associate white ivory with new carvings. If the color of your pictures is correct, I consider this a first strike.

Next, note the "cracks" in your object. Looking at the horse's breast, there appears to be grain that runs parallel to the length of the horse. (better pictures would help) Thus, the cracks are perpendicular to the grain. I haven't made a study of ivory ageing, but I suspect that any cracks would be with the grain. Strike 2.

Next, let's look at the workmanship. The execution of your piece seems somewhat crude. Look at the second picture below. Note the similarity between the carving of the eyes of that dragon and the lion of your carving. The carving is rather crude and appears to perhaps have been done with a rotating tool (likely electric) with a round end. This dragon I consider a mistake purchase. After I purchased it, I found one exactly like it on eBay. Obviously, mine was recently mass produced. Strike 3.

Lastly, note the black "dirt" in the "cracks" and the nooks and crannies of your piece. I associate this black "dirt" with an effort to make the piece look old. Notice the lack of such "dirt" on the three pieces from the New Orleans Museum of Art above. There is darker patina in the nooks and crannies, but it isn't that black "dirt". Strike 4.

I am not an expert in netsuke. I just like them and have a few. I hope these observations will give you something to think about and research.

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