Unknown / Japan / Netsuke: (garden within an open clam) 19th century / Carved ivory / 3.2 x 6 x 4cm / Gift of John Riedel in memory of Gertrude Langer through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2015 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art


Netsuke: (garden within an open clam) c.1800

Not Currently on Display

The small carvings known as netsuke epitomise several important aspects of Japanese art and culture. They have fascinated people around the world since Japan increased commerce with the West in the 1860s.

This humble accessory, which secured the wearer’s personal belongings to the sash or belt (obi) of their kimono, expresses the refinement of traditional carving techniques, the artists’ understanding of the medium, and variously portrays mythical, spiritual, customary and natural subjects.

This netsuke was one of 24 that were given to John Riedel, a close friend of the collector, Dr Gertrude Langer, and remained in his possession until 2015. In gifting them to the Queensland Art Gallery, Reidel reunited the collection with the other 68 netsuke donated by Langer in 1969.

Discussion Questions

1. Although there were no pockets in traditional Japanese clothing, people found clever ways to carry their belongings on their belt or sash (obi). A netsuke hung from the belt by a cord, keeping possessions safe. Why do you think craftspeople made such finely detailed keepsakes?

2. What possible significance might the imagery have been to the original owner?

Classroom Activities

1. Design a miniature device you could attach to your school bag that would keep the small things you treasure secure. What types of items would your device keep safe?

2. Find images online that capture the latest fashion trends that also have a functional purpose.