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Monday, March 12, 2012

Ukiyo-e Triptych: The Story Of Genji

First off... I want to apologize for the crappy photos of these ukiyo-e - Japanese woodblock prints. They are framed in glass within acid-free archival paper borders, and in order to avoid flashback or my own reflection dominating, I had to take this at an obscene angle... obviously, I am not a professional photographer.  

These three ukiyo-e are a triptych... a trio or art that when joined for one larger image.

Above... this is indeed a print. But, it was printed in and around 1840 and was purchased by myself at T. Takemoto, a dealer in antique and modern fine art and curios, a shop in Nikko-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in 1992. I paid ¥25,000 (Cdn/US $300) back then, as part of a deal because I was buying a few other pieces of art at the same time.

The original art was painted by Toyokuni III (1786-1864), and was then made into a print via the ukiyo-e format on cherry wood.

Subject matter is: The Story of Genji, and depicts Genji (lower ukiyo-e) sitting in a boat with his wife in the fancy headdress (middle image) and three of her retinue, as they float gently down a moon-lit river.

Size: Each panel is approximately: 9-inches wide, 13.75-inches tall. Again... sealed under glass.

Further background information for your entertainment:
Toyokuni was with the name Sumida Shogoro IX in the Honjo district of Edo (the former name of  Tokyo), though he was also known as Sumida Shozo. After gaining admittance into the Utagawa school of art, and under the guidance of headmaster Toyokuni I, Sumida was re-named Kunisada (the 'Kuni' came from 'Toyo-kuni').

According to art historians, Kunisada / Toyokuni III was the most prolific, popular and financially sucessful ukiyo-e designer and artist of the 19th century. During his life, his reputation exceeded such artists as Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi.

In fact, at the end of the Edo-jidai (1600-1868), the top three ukiyo-e artists were: Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi and Kunisada (Toyokuni III).

But, to show you just how much art popularity is purely subjective, all three of these artists were  considered as hacks - inferior artists - by the American and European collector back in the late 19th and early 20th century.

While Hiroshige got his due in the 1930s,a nd Kuniyoshi his in the 1970s, my main man Kunisada did not get any love until the early 1990s coincidentaly when I started buying his artwork, which I did because:
  1. I liked it;
  2. It was far more affordable than the uber-popular Hokusai or Hiroshige ukiyo-e pieces. 

By the way... if you take a look at the people in the artwork above, take a closer look at the colors... you'll that nowhere will you see a deep red or a purple - two colors that only made their way into ukiyo-e prints after 1868 (that is according to the owner of Takamoto's). You can see examples of that purple (and a deep red that also made a late appearance) in a link to much better images of my ukiyo-e collection: HERE. If you see deep purple and deep red in your ukiyo-e, it was printed after 1868.

I still have a few more ukiyo-e I haven't photographed yet... At least the collection I am directing you to was copied professionally on a  large enough scanner. The one I have at home will not capture these large images.

Anyhow... since I could not find copies of these ukiyo-e on-line - and I did a pretty good search, I figured, what the heck.. let's at least get it out there for posterity... and others can at least see what I stare at on a near-daily basis.

Andrew Joseph

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