Private Collection of Fine Japanese Prints
Online Auction: 28 September–8 October 2020 • London

Private Collection of Fine Japanese Prints 28 September–8 October 2020 • London

W e are delighted to announce the sale of a Private Collection of Fine Japanese Prints, including woodblock prints by Toshusai Sharaku, Katsushika Hokusai, Kitagawa Utamaro and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Among this group is Sharaku’s expressive and dramatic depiction of the Actor Otani Tokuji in the role of the Servant Sodesuke and two elegant depictions of beauties by Utamaro. A large group of Hokusai prints complement these works, including two impressions from Hokusai’s sinister One Hundred Ghost Tales (Hyaku monogatari), their iconography rich in legendary folklore. Also included are a group of prints from the series One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse (Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki), coloured in lively hues, and a selection of thirteen prints from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei). The sale concludes with several vibrant triptychs by Yoshitoshi.

Featured Highlights

The Japan Ukiyo-e MuseumMastumoto, designed by Shinohara Kazuo (1925–2006) © Japan Ukiyo-e Museum.

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum was established in 1982 by three brothers, Tokichi, Teisuke and Senzaburou Saikai, as a means of publicly displaying the family’s large collection of ukiyo-e prints, paintings, scrolls, modern prints and antiquarian books, and to contribute towards these fields of study.

The collection was founded by Yoshiaki Sakai (1776-1842) during the first half of the nineteenth century, an important merchant and patron of the arts in Matsumoto. In 1836 Yoshiaki commissioned the renowned ukiyo-e artist, Utagawa Hiroshige, to paint his portrait. His son Yoshitaka (1810-1869) and grandson Touhyou-u (1844-1911) continued in his footsteps, the latter opening a gallery in Tokyo in 1870 and encouraging scholarly research into ukiyo-e, an activity also advocated by Shoukichi (1915-1993) who founded the academic periodical “Ukiyo-e”. The Sakai collection has travelled around the world and has been exhibited in Europe, the USA, Australia, the Middle East, China and South America.

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Utamaro’s Bijin

These two elegant depictions of beautiful women (bijin) are prime examples of Kitagawa Utamaro’s oeuvre, which concentrated on the graceful rendering of ladies of the pleasure district undertaking a variety of daily activities relating to their toilette, from combing their hair to applying make-up.

Here, as in many of his later works, Utamaro depicted individual portraits of bijin, concentrating on the upper half of their physique (okubi-e) and accentuating, and often distorting to greater effect, their fine female features. Images of bijin were extremely popular and demand for the subject-matter blossomed during the Edo period, with the extensive circulation of bijin prints greatly facilitated by their medium.

100 Poems

For his last single sheet series of woodblock prints, One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse (Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki), Katshushika Hokusai looked to an anthology of well-known poems, entitled Hyakunin Isshu (A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets), as his source. These poems, based on love and melancholy, were assembled by the thirteenth-century poet Fujiawara no Teika. Hokusai chose to visually recount the poems from the perspective of a fictional elderly nurse, thereby injecting a mixture of emotion, empathy and humour into his imagery. Together with sixty-four preparatory drawings, twenty-seven published prints are known, each exhibiting bold and brilliant colours and including a cartouche enclosing the relevant verse.

Ghosts and Demons

The visual representation of the spiritual world and its legends played a key role within the realm of ukiyo-e. Ghost stories, the subject of great fascination in Japan from the Edo period onwards, were recounted over candlelight, and provided the inspiration for Katshushika Hokusai’s haunting prints from his series One Hundred Ghost Tales (Hyaku monogatari) from 1833. Half a century later, Tsukioka Yoshiotshi employed the print medium to illustrate his colourful and dramatic vision of the spectral world, often depicting ghosts and demons at the hands of warriors.

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