From its Zen gardens and its century-old temples, to its spiritual bamboo forests, traditional tea houses and delectable cuisine, there’s no dearth of attractions in Kyoto. But what’s worth making space in your schedule for is the must-see exhibition: Mastery of an Art: Van Cleef & Arpels – High Jewellery and Japanese Crafts.
Organised by the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Nikkei Inc and Kyoto Shimbrum, in collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels, the exhibition presents a retrospective of the high jewellery by the French maison since 1896, juxtaposed with traditional artistic crafts mastered by the Japanese.
We see, side-by-side, jewels depicting the forms of animals, flora and fauna illustrating the incredible savoir-faire of the French maison, as well as objets d’art featuring artworks by Japanese craftsmen. Do opt for the audio guide, and immerse yourself in a history lesson through the Meiji era (from 1868-1912), recounted through the lives and times of craftsmen that lived then, and the crafts they pursued. Through home décor objects, silk screens and kimonos, we discovered the meticulous crafts of marquetry woodwork, cloisonné enamelling and lacquer ware that the craftsmen specialised in. We were particularly taken by the works of imperial household artist Namiwaka Yasuyuki, whose meticulous cloisonné enamelling work depicts delicate blossoms and mythical birds.
But beyond the visual appreciation of these works of art—by both the French and the Japanese—it was the confluence of two diverse countries that lingered in our minds long after we had left the museum. It was fascinating to discover the influence that the orient has had on the French maison, introducing it to precious materials such as jade, onyx and mother-of-pearl, techniques such as lacquering, as well as oriental motifs such as dragons and koi fish.
Here’s a sneak peek of the pieces that you can expect at the exhibition: