Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Japanese Lacquerware

Dec 9, 2015 – Oct 23, 2016

Behind every gorgeous, glossy surface of Japanese lacquerware are talented artists who have mastered a painstaking creative process. 

Through a selection of exquisite objects, Japanese Lacquerware reveals the many techniques and applications developed by artisans over hundreds of years. With a focus on work created during the 17th through 20th centuries, the 19 objects include a kimono screen, incense containers, traveling chest and picnic set.

Text and film footage describe the challenges of lacquer production — from extracting sap to decorating with gold and silver powder. Find out about the toxic liquid used to make lacquer (extracted from a tree related to poison oak), as well as the regimented, climate-sensitive steps involved in its creation. 

As you’ll learn, completing even a plain lacquered surface with only simple decorations is a lengthy, tedious and often precarious process, since any mistake can ruin an entire piece. Producing meticulously embellished works like those on view in Japanese Lacquerware requires the highest level of craftsmanship.

Love lacquer? Be sure to check out our presentation of Chinese lacquerware, on view now, and our upcoming exhibition Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea, opening in April.

Download a PDF of our 2008 publication The Conservation of Asian Lacquer: Case Studies at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Making of Japanese Lacquer

Discover how Japanese lacquer artists use materials such as viscous sap, powdered metals, and bits of shell to create works of art after months, or even years, of patient labor.

Main image: Inkstone cover (detail), by Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807-1891). Lacquer on wood. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundate Collection, B60M294. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. 

Organizers & Sponsors

Japanese Lacquerware is organized by the Asian Art Museum.