Incense in Paris

Incense Snail copy

Born into a wealthy family in Milan, Enrico Cernuschi (1821-1896) was forced to flee from Italy in 1850 due to some political differences with those in power, and became Henri Cernuschi in France, where he made his fortune in banking. In 1871, again troubled by politics, he left Paris to travel in China and Japan where he acquired about 5,000 pieces of Asian art.

In 1883, art historian Louis Gonse published L’art Japonais, drawing upon Cernuschi’s Paris collection and others, with illustrations by Henri Guérard, an etcher and woodcut artist. Among the works shown were incense burners done by Kimura Heiji, a bronze caster of Edo (Tokyo) who worked as “Toun” circa 1804-1840. A burner in the form of a snail is shown above, but he was most famous for his dragons, as below.

Incense Burner with Dragon Toun

Of Japanese bronzes in general, Gonse wrote:

“The methods of casting are the same in Japan as with us, and are based upon the same principles: a model in wax, a mold in potter’s earth. The Japanese have neither secrets nor tricks that we have not already utilized. What places them beyond competition is conscientious workmanship, respect and love for their work, as well as great skill of hand.”

Here are three more Japanese incense burners collected by Cernuschi, described by Gonse and etched by Guérard:

Incense Crow

Incense GriffonIncense Falcon

When Henri Cernuschi died, he left his art collection and home to the city of Paris to be used as a museum, which is open to the public today.


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