A Selection of Fine Japanese Prints & Paintings by Three Masters

A Selection of Fine Japanese Prints & Paintings by Three Masters

The Fine Japanese Art sale showcases the beauty of Japanese artistry and craftsmanship through a delightful group of fine Japanese works of art, including fine paintings and prints by some of the most celebrated artists of the country. Here we discuss three artists whose work features in the sale.
The Fine Japanese Art sale showcases the beauty of Japanese artistry and craftsmanship through a delightful group of fine Japanese works of art, including fine paintings and prints by some of the most celebrated artists of the country. Here we discuss three artists whose work features in the sale.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

M anji Hokusai at the age of 75 added a short autobiographical colophon in the first volume of One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Lot 15), in which he manifests a positive self-assessment and accomplishment of his long artistic career. He further expressed his aspiration to practice until the age of 110. Hokusai was determined in his belief of getting better as he grew older.

Lot 17, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Edo Period, 19th Century, Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-Oki Nami-Ura), Also Known as the Great Wave. Estimate £300,000–400,000.
"From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects, and fish. Thus, when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and then, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false."
Told by Gakyō Rōjin Manji (This translation from Henry Smith, 'One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji', (New York, 1999), p.7.)

He clearly saw the One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji as the beginning of a new phase in his artistic career and thereby awarded himself a new artist’s name of Manji and signed zen Hokusai Iitsu aratame Gakyōrōjin Manji [Old Man Mad about Painting]. Manji is also the same reading as the swastika (Manji), the giver of life and fortune. With this manifesto, he declares his longing for perfection and immortality. He was no longer just Iits Hokusai [formerly Hokusai].

Lot 15, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Edo Period, 19th Century, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Hyakkei). Estimate £50,000–70,000.

The art historian Jack Hillier (1912–1995) praised the One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji as Hokusai’s “masterwork” and further states that “it [One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji] was to sum up his artistic philosophy and practice.” (Jack Hillier, The Art of Hokusai in Book Illustration, (California, 1980), p. 214.) In this work, Hokusai, indeed, returned to several of the themes that had fascinated him for years, including Mount Fuji, waves, craftsmen in motion. This set of three albums depicting Mount Fuji from place to place, from various angels truly manifests the genuine and immortal effect of Hokusai.

Kawahara Keiga (1786-1860)

I n 1634, the third shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered the construction of the artificial island of Deshima to accommodate the Portuguese traders living in Nagasaki and to prevent the propagation of their religion. The name was derived from the Japanese words deru [go out], and shima [island] and can be translated as ‘the island that lies in front of the city.’ (The Seibu Museum of Art et al., Kawahara Keiga: ten, (Tokyo, 1980), p.2.)

In 1639, the Tokugawa government decided to expel the Portuguese following an increase in Christian population in the region. The Dutch, who had already been operating from the trading post in Hirado for several decades, had reftrained from any form of Christian practice and were perfectly suitable to replace the Portuguese on Deshima. Consequently, the Dutch were the only European nation permitted to trade with a country that would otherwise remain virtually isolated from the rest of the world until 1854. With the declaration of bankruptcy of the United East India Company, VOC, in 1798, Deshima became an unprofitable trading post but the Dutch government maintained it as a conduit for Western knowledge in Japan and vice versa.

Lot 115, Attributed to Kawahara Keiga (1786–1860) Studio, Deshima Island, Edo Period, Early 19th Century. Estimate £15,000–20,000.

The fan-shaped island of Deshima was not more than 65 meters deep, 175 meters wide on the side facing the city and 215 meters wide on the side facing the sea and was surrounded by a basalt wall. The island had two gateways: the ‘Water Gate’ (Waterpoort) was located on the west side and allowed Dutch ships to dock and offload, while the main gate connected the island to the city of Nagasaki on the mainland. Both entrances were heavily guarded. Only the captains of the ships were allowed to enter Deshima, while sailors had to remain on board. Those who wished to enter or leave Deshima, even temporarily, were subject to a thorough inspection and body search at the gateways.

Obtaining special permission from the Japanese government, Kawahara Keiga (1786–1860) worked as a painter at the Dutch factory of Deshima in Nagasaki from 1811 to 1842, where he learned fundamentals of Western painting techniques. At the behest of the Dutch at Deshima, Keiga documented all ethnological aspects of life in Japan and at Deshima. Keiga occasionally signed his work with Getekend door Toyoskij [signed by Toyosuke], the artist’s penname in Dutch.

Lot 118, Attributed to Kawahara Keiga (1786–1860) Studio, Edo Period, 19th Century, A Group Of Twenty-Four Fish. Estimate £10,000–15,000.

Most notably known for his close connection with Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796 –1866), a German physician and botanist in the service of the Dutch East Indies at Deshima between 1823 and 1829, Keiga painted numerous pictorial images to assist Siebold’s scientific research in medical herbs, ichthyology, zoology and ethnological documentation including geography, architecture, festivals and landscapes. Keiga’s enormous amount of illustrations appear in Siebold’s monumental works such as Nippon (1832), Fauna Japonica (1833-1850) and Flora Japonica (1835–1841).

Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795)

T he emergence of modern painting in Japan that incorporated both empirical realism and artistic creativity began to flourish with the Kyoto-based artist Maruyama Ōkyo. Like many of his contemporaries, such as Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800), Maruyama Ōkyo was trained in the rich tradition of the Kano school. However, unlike in the traditional approach of practicing and copying works of past masters using funpon (copybooks), Ōkyo developed an unorthodox method of shashei [sketching from life].

Lot 51, Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), Edo Period, 18th Century, The Four Seasons. Estimate £300,000–500,000.

Following the partial relaxation of the ban of Western books, which occurred under the eighth shōgun Yoshimune (1684 –1751), a rapid stream of Western scientific texts entered Japan. Kyoto emerged as a vigorous hub for scientific knowledge within the intellectual and cultural community. Inspired by this forward-looking environment, Ōkyo began to sketch natural and urban landscapes based on his direct observations, thereby incorporating his knowledge of anatomy and the calculation of perspective into these pictorial landscapes. He developed a clean, fresh new painting style called shashei-ga [sketching from life] that was later characterized as Maruyama-ha [Maruyama school].

Although Ōkyo believed that sketching from life was a necessity, his finished paintings were never solely the product of shasei [sketching from life] apriori. For example, despite the vivid visual effect of Ōkyo’s tiger paintings, the artist had never actually seen a living tiger, as the animal had yet to be imported to Japan. As the art historian Oka Midori states “Ōkyo instead combined meticulous sketches of tiger pelts with careful studies of the movements and postures of cats.” (Sasaki Johei and Sasaki Masako, Maruyama Okyo kenkyu zurokuhen (Study of Maruyama Okyo, illustration volume), (Tokyo, 1996), p. 504.) The artist was known to have kept small animals in his atelier so that he could draw them, and used a telescope to observe the motion of animals. Ōkyo took subjects from the established tradition of Japanese painting and sketched from life but finished his works with slight visual adjustments to shape the artist’s creative vision.

Lot 51, Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), Edo Period, 18th Century, The Four Seasons. Estimate £300,000–500,000.

Ōkyo’s affinity for such advanced cultural phenomena was nurtured during his mid-teens. Born to a family of farmers in present-day Kameoka in the Kyoto prefecture in 1733, Ōkyo apprenticed at the prestigious toy merchant Owari-ya Kanbei that sold and made high-quality traditional gosho-ningyō [palace dolls] and furnished them, among others, to the women’s quarters of the Imperial Place. The store further exposed Ōkyo to lenses, mirrors and other rare, “exotic” items such as megane-e images for a mechanized device called nozoki karakuri or gorakubako [zorascope, a type of stereopticon fitted with a lens and mirror], which exaggerates depth perception in architectural scenes. During this time, he may have developed an interest in three-dimensional pictorial representation through the visual properties of a nozoki-karakuri [zograscope].

His employer at the store, Nakajima Kanbei recognized Ōkyo’s artistic talent and sent him to study painting under Ishida Yūtei (1721–1786), a member of the Tsruzawa branch of the Kano school. Furthermore, Ōkyo’s connection with Owari-ya also provided him with access to a wide network of cultural patronage. Following his apprenticeship, Ōkyo was employed by the Buddhist abbess Renchiin of the Hokyoji temple (also known as the Dodo Gosho) and then by the Imperial prince-abbot Yūjō (1723-73) of the Enman’in temple, which allowed the artist to gain entry into a select group of painters and craftsmen that received patronage of the Imperial family. The Mitsui family was Ōkyo’s most powerful financial source of patronage. The rise of wealthy patrons from the thriving merchant class and from large, established temples in and around Kyoto were also providing a new market for painters in search of unorthodox visuality. It was this social-cultural context and the new influx of material from the Western world that converged to facilitate Ōkyo’s success as an artist.

This innovative approach to representation has remained the ideological cornerstone for numerous Nihon-ga painters in the Meiji period (1868–1912). Interestingly, the modernization of Japanese painting had in fact begun prior to the influx of Western culture during the nineteenth century.

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