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Rudyard Kipling and the mysterious K......


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I found this very interesting article from a book on Rudyard Kipling's travels through Asia at the end of the 19th century, and would like to share it.


From Sea to Sea : Letters of Travel
by Rudyard Kipling
Publication date 1900
Talk to every one you meet, if they show the least disposition to talk to you, and you will gather, as I have done, a host of stories that will be of use to you hereafter. Unfortunately, they are not all fit for publication. When I tore myself away from the distractions of the outer world, and was just sitting down to write seriously on the Future of Japan, there entered a fascinating man, with heaps of money, who had collected Indian and Japanese curios all his life, and was now come to this country to get some old books which his collection lacked. Can you imagine a more pleasant life than his wanderings over the earth, with untold special knowledge to back each signature of his cheque-book ?
In five minutes he had carried me far away from the clattering, fidgety folk around, to a quiet world where men meditated for three weeks over a bronze, and scoured all Japan for a sword-guard designed by a great artist and — were horribly cheated in the end. 
'Who is the best artist in Japan now ' I asked. 
'He died in Tokio, last Friday, poor fellow, and there is no one to take his place. His name was K.., and as a general rule he could never be persuaded to work unless he was drunk. He did his best pictures when he was drunk.' 
'Ému. Artists are never drunk.' 
'Quite right. I'll show you a sword-guard that he designed. All the best artists out here do a lot of designing. K... used to fritter away his time on designs for old friends. Had he stuck to pictures he could have made twice as much. But he never turned out pot-boilers. When you go to Tokio, make it your business to get two little books of his called Drunken Sketches — pictures that he did when he was — ému. There is enough dash and go in them to fill half a dozen studios. An English artist studied under him for some time. But K...'s touch was not communicable, though he might have taught his pupil something about technique. Have you ever come across one of K...'s crows ? You could tell it anywhere. He could put all the wicked thoughts that ever came into the mind of a crow — and a crow is first cousin to the Devil — on a piece of paper six inches square, with a brush of Indian ink and two turns of his wrist. Look at the sword-guard I spoke of. How is that for feeling ?' 
On a circular piece of iron four inches in diameter and pierced by the pole for the tang of the blade, poor K..., who died last Friday, had sketched the figure of a coolie trying to fold up a cloth which was bellying to a merry breeze — not a cold wind, but a sportive summer gust. The coolie was enjoying the performance, and so was the cloth. It would all be folded up in another minute and the coolie would go on his way with a grin. 
This thing had K... conceived, and the faithful workman executed, with the lightest touches of the graver, to the end that it might lie in a collector's cabinet in London. 
'Wah ! wah !' I said, and returned it reverently. 'It would kill a man who could do that to 
live after his touch had gone. Well for him he died — but I wish I had seen him.'
Is it a reasonable guess that the mysterious K.... is none other than Kano Natsuo? [The book being published in 1900, and taking time to write and get printed - the death of Kano Natsuo in 1898 would certainly fit the timing.]
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Wow..what an interesting story! I love Kipling's writings, and this is just so personal and relevant.
I wonder if we can find a pic of the tsuba under discussion. I guess he did the design, but we don't know who made the tsuba?
Fascinating look into the past, thanks for that Dale.

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Never Natsuo, it's well documented that he was a very fastidious man with extremely genteel ways. Drunk? never!


Piers has correctly identified Mr K, his book of drunken sketches would clinch that.


Kawanabe Kyosai, the demon painter, had an English student, Josiah Condor, who wrote a very useful book on Kyosai's teachings and in which we learn a fair bit of his character. I think perhaps the story of his only working drunk is a bit exaggerated.


JConder, Paintings and Studies of Kawanabe Kyosai, Yokohama, 1911

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  • 3 years later...

This is a very old thread now but I just uncovered a tsuba in an old French catalogue [1904] (Pierre Barboutau, 1862-1916 collection)  which states "1074. ^ Le blaireau changé en marmite. Garde en " Sëntokou " faite d'après un dessin de Kyô-saï." 

Translated to English "The badger turned into a pot. “Sentoku” guard made after a drawing by Kyôsaï. [Kyosai Suiga]"  19th century.

Though this is not the same guard as described by Kipling it does show that Kyosai's drawings were indeed made into tsuba. 



1074 collection Barboutau.png

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Dale, I'm not sure if this is relevant but I'll post anyway.  It's from Japanische Schwertzieraten, which catalogues the Gustav Jacoby collection that was donated to a museum in Berlin.  Published 1904.

Gustav Jacoby 3.jpg

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There are a few of these getting about, two in the Metropolitan Museum. They are very very close to the design and I can't help wondering if Kyosai  really did the design or merely recorded it and this was interpreted as his design? Both designs appear in a Markus Sesko blog. https://markussesko.com/page/3/ And I wonder if the dates match up with when Kyosai was active?


Two more of a slightly different nature - one in the V & A the other in Musei di Genova  https://www.museidig.../tsuba-tanuki-design

As well two other designs one carved iron the other cast [I have three of the cast ones on record - they all have the same tanuki face each side, no tails.] I don't think any of these are based on works by Kyosai.






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