F ine Japanese Prints takes place this 17–24 March offering iconic designs from the artists of the floating world.
Ukiyo-e [lit. pictures of the floating world] defines a genre of artistic output from the Edo period onwards, most often associated with the townsman, merchant class and demimonde residing in the then newly established capital of Edo. These artworks took inspiration from the 'floating world', a byword for hedonistic centres such as the Yoshiwara, as well as uki-e, pictures employing and imitating Western perspective to dramatic effect. The sale begins with an early sumizuri-e with hand-applied colour and gold pigment of a Dairibina, a pair of festivals dolls representing the Emperor and Empress, by Nishimura Shigenaga, and is later followed by an impression of Otani Tokuji as the Servant Sodesuke by the enigmatic Sharaku. Seminal works by Katsushika Hokusai include both Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also known as the 'Great Wave', and Fine Wind, Clear Weather, or 'Red Fuji' – two of the artist's most renowned designs from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. A selection of dynamic triptychs by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, such as Sakata no Kintoki, Usui Sadamitsu and Genji Tsuna subdue monsters while playing go, precede works by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Kawanabe Kyosai. The sale approaches its close with Shin-hanga beauty prints by Ito Shinsui and Torii Kotondo, culminating in the landscapes of Kawase Hasui and Yoshida Hiroshi, as well as a group of esoteric prints by Munakata Shiko from a private collection.
'Old Man Crazy to Paint': A Private Collection of Woodblock Prints by Katsushika Hokusai
This group of works by Hokusai from a private European collection features prints from two of the artist’s series in the woodblock medium: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces. From the former, an impression of the 'Red Fuji' shows the mountain at dawn, its conical shape suffused a deep red as if struck by the rosy light of sunrise. Altocumulus clouds, refered to as iwashigumo, or sardine clouds, drift in the sky like a shoal of fish. The asymmetrical and economic rendition of the revered Mount Fuji has placed it among the most celebrated works by the artist.
From the latter, The Falling Mist Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province shows sightseers admiring the cascading torrents of the Kirifuri waterfall. The cresting waters are depicted as if branching out like the roots of a large tree or the vessels of an organism. Its spray rises from the bottom in pointillistic speckles as it crashes on the rocks below, whilst three travelers tilt their heads up in awe of the grand waterfall.
The works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi represent some of the boldest woodblock print designs in the nineteenth century, contributing significantly to the development of the musha-e (warrior print), as well as depictions of ghosts, demons and legendary tales. Achieving great popularity and success during his lifetime, Kuniyoshi undoubtedly saw himself and his art as brandishing the spirit of the Edokko [lit. children of Edo], born and bred Edoites who were thought to be headstrong, charming and defiant – tough urbanites who were also effortless iki (stylish). These characteristics are present throughout his output and readily displayed in his triptychs where ‘wide screen’ compositional devices can be suitably employed. Oftentimes magnifying a single element of the design, stretching his subject over the three individual oban sheets, Kuniyoshi masterfully dramatizes his ‘larger than life’ and grandiose warrior figures – optimizing the expressive possibilities of the triptych form.