An Eye for Excellence: Raymond Bushell's Favorite Netsuke

Pavilion for Japanese Art, Level 2, Raymond and Frances Bushell Netsuke Gallery
March 17, 2011–July 19, 2011

Raymond Bushell was a lawyer who lived and worked in Japan for over three decades following World War 2. He began collecting netsuke there when they could be found in great numbers and purchased for reasonable sums. The availability of netsuke at the time coupled with Bushell's collecting zeal resulted in a huge collection of works that exemplify the art form in all its variety. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Raymond and Frances Bushell began loaning works from their collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The first of several gifts took place in 1987 and upon the completion of the donation in 1998, LACMA had received nearly 900 netsuke from the Bushells.

For the opening of the Pavilion for Japanese Art at LACMA in 1988, Raymond Bushell provided to the museum a list of the 150 works that were his personal favorites from among the thousands that comprised his entire collection. As one of the most active and influential netsuke collectors of the 20th century, the works on display provide insights into Bushell's personal tastes, collecting objectives, and life-long study of netsuke.

Just as LACMA's complete collection includes a broad range of examples, so too does this installation of the donor's favorite netsuke. Displayed examples include works from the earliest period of netsuke production through the mid-20th century. Genre scenes, revered religious figures, mythical beasts and everyday objects are among the repertoire of motifs exhibited. Additionally, the immense variety of materials in which netsuke carvers worked is evidenced in objects made from ivory, wood, and a host of more uncommon materials such as ceramic, lacquer, deer antler, boar tusk, and glass.

A look at several pieces in the installation illustrates the range of styles and subjects that can be found in the collection as a whole.  Stylized Crab is a study in simplicity while Praying Mantis is a tour de force of naturalism. Playful subjects such as Playing Turtle are a stark departure from the harrowing tale of Morita and Kesa. Traditional netsuke motifs such as Kirin and Baku find a place beside later subjects including Goat-Headed Monster and Toy Box.  Powerful bold sculptures such as the Tiger by Tametaka offer a sharp contrast to later more complex works such as Choryo and Kosekiko.

Bushell's close relationship with Tokyo carver Masatoshi (1915–2001) is evident. Likewise, the number of works by Kaigyokusai (1813–1892) and SBko (1879–1943) attest to Bushell's liking for the stylizations and treatments used by these carvers.

Bushell was committed to the quality of his collection. Even as he was in the process of donating his netsuke to LACMA, he continued to look for pieces to improve the group. Though failing to acquire it in the early 1950s, Bushell purchased the Floating Crane by Kaigyokusai in 1990. It was among his most prized acquisitions and entered LACMA's collection in 1991.

International Netsuke Society Convention
May 20–25 | Beverly Wilshire Hotel

Image: Kaigyokusai (Masatsugu), Japan, 1813–1892, Floating Crane, Ivory with staining, sumi, inlays, 1 13/16 x 15/16 x 7/8 in., Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection, M.91.250.339.