Lacquer with mother-of-pearl
H. 11 3/8 in. (28.9 cm)
Purchase, Seymour Fund, Mary and James G. Wallach Foundation Gift, and Friends of Korean Art Gifts, 2006 (2006.260a–g)
This small chest with six drawers is a beautiful and rare example of nineteenth-century lacquer adorned entirely with mother-of-pearl. The decoration on the front of the chest, which has been incised onto the pearl shells and filled with black ink to intensify the effect, makes this piece particularly striking. Bamboo, chrysanthemums, orchids, chicks, waterfowl, and butterflies appear in the lively pictorial scenes on the drawer fronts. The delightful vignette of a lotus pond on the bottom, and largest, drawer shares many stylistic affinities with paintings of this subject from the late Joseon period.
Given its rectangular form, small size, and compartments of varying sizes, this chest of drawers was likely used to hold cosmetic or writing paraphernalia. Stationery boxes of similar shape were made in Japan and India for the European market at least two centuries earlier. The structure of this piece may refer to an earlier Eurasian model; its design and aesthetic are distinctively Korean.