Japanese lacquered 'treasure' chest auctions for $9.3m in Paris

A magnificent Japanese lacquered chest that has been sought by London's Victoria & Albert Museum for decades has sold in a June 10 auction in Paris.

The coffer was bought for just £100 in 1970 and had been used as a TV stand and drinks cabinet by its consignor, who was unaware of its remarkable value. Such is its rarity and artisanship, the chest was propelled to an outstanding final price of $9.3m.

The sum is thought to be the second highest ever achieved for a Japanese work of art at auction.

The 1.5m long box is one of only 10 of its kind known to exist. Made in 1640 by the master craftsman Kami Nagashige, it was commissioned by the head of the Dutch East India Company in Japan.

Its intricate cedar wood, metal and gold lacquer design depicts various Japanese myths, such as The Tale of Genji, which is widely accepted as the world's first novel.

Japanese chest V&A treasure auction
The sale is likely to unlock more secrets about the chest's past

After being housed in the Dutch East India Company's office for 18 years, the boxes were sold to the French first minister Cardinal Mazarin, who maintained an extensive collection.

Two of the chests were obtained by British poet William Beckford, and were later moved to Hamilton Palace when Beckford's daughter married the Duke of Hamilton.

This pair were sold at an auction of the contents of Hamilton Palace in 1882, where one was bought by the V&A and the other - presumably the present lot - sold to collector Sir Trevor Lawrence and then to Sir Clifford Cory.

When Cory died in 1941, the coffer disappeared from the market. Unbeknown to many, it had been sold to a Polish doctor in London, before passing to a French engineer in 1970.

The engineer had lived in London's south Kensington - just a short distance from the Victoria & Albert Museum - until 1986, when he retired to France and took the impressive chest with him.

The box has now been bought by Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, whose head of east Asian art, Menno Fitski, commented to the Daily Mail: "The thing to note about this chest is that it is the best of the best: It was the best when it was made and the same still applies today. It has an incredible back story which makes it all the more special."

Experts at the V&A are simply glad to see that the box has survived the tests of time: "It would have been fantastic for us to have been able to bid for the chest but like many museums around the world we didn't have the money," Julia Hutt, curator of the east Asian department told the newspaper.

"I was delighted to hear the Rijksmuseum had won the auction - it is a very fitting home for the chest."

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