Length including cover: 12 inches, 30.5 cm
Length of handle: 9 inches, 22.8 cm

Red and green lacquer brush
Red and green lacquer brush

Red and green lacquer brush

China, 18th century

A large lacquer brush, the cylindrical shaft tapering slightly towards the top of the handle and carved with two vigorous five-clawed dragons, winding around the handle and pursuing a flaming pearl through cloud scrolls. The scene is carved through a thick layer of red lacquer to the green ground below, which is decorated with a wave pattern. The cover is similarly decorated, but in red lacquer only.  Both the top and the bottom of the brush are carved with a Shou medallion.

Brushes made from expensive materials such as carved lacquer were the prerogative of the literati class, who counted them, together with ink, paper and ink-grinding stones among the ‘four treasures of the scholar’s study’ (wen fang ssu pao).1  The present brush is a highly unusual example, as a two-coloured lacquer scheme is rarely used for such pieces, a single colour, mostly cinnabar, being the norm. It dates from the eighteenth century, which is also unusual; most extant brushes date from the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), such as an example with figures in a landscape setting in the Baoyizhai collection.2 A cinnabar lacquer brush dated to the 16th – 17th century in the collection of the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya has a very similar arrangement of dragons and clouds.3   A comparable lacquer brush carved with a decoration of birds and flowers on a diaper ground and also dated to the 16th – 17th century is in the same collection.4

  1. Jacobsen, R.D. Appreciating China, Gifts from Ruth and Bruce Dayton, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, p. 319
  2. Lam, P.Y.K. (ed.) Layered Beauty, the Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese Lacquer, Hong Kong 2010, pl. 46, pp. 122-3
  3. Karamono: Imported Lacquerwork – Chinese, Korean and Ryukyuan (Okinawa), Selections from The Tokugawa Art Museum Vol. II, no. 70, p. 47
  4. Karamono: Imported Lacquerwork – op. cit. no. 73, p. 47