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3 Mid-19th C. Japanese Woodblocks - Tale of the Genji

East Asia, Japan, Edo period, mid-19th century CE. Three fine Japanese woodblock prints of the ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) style, including examples attributed to Utagawa school as well as the Tale of Genji written by the famous lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu. This classic work of Japanese literature, written in the 11th century, paints a wonderful portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan and is widely touted to be the world's first novel. The story tells of the passionate prince Genji's love affairs and political escapades. Woodblock prints were used in Japan as early as the 8th century to illustrate texts. By the 18th century Japanese wood block techniques evolved and the first polychrome prints or nishiki-e were commissioned for wealthy patrons of the Edo period. This period is known for marvelous woodblock prints of female beauties, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, and courtesans of the infamous pleasure districts. In time the repertoire expanded to include romantic landscapes, flora and fauna, and dramatic historical events. Each of the examples featured in this lot presents the characteristic birds-eye view, penchant for strong line, and appreciation for brilliant, saturated hues that are hallmarks of this fine Japanese artform. Works such as these played a major role in the West's perception of Japanese visual culture during the late 19th century when Japonism exerted a powerful influence on French Impressionists such as Degas, Manet, and Monet, Post-Impressionists including Van Gogh, even pioneering Art Nouveau artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec. Size: each print measures approximately 9" L x 6.25" H (22.9 cm x 15.9 cm); matted 13.25" x 10.5" (33.7 x 26.7 cm)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art curatorial experts, "A woodblock print image is first designed by the artist on paper and then transferred to a thin, partly transparent paper. Following the lines on the paper, now pasted to a wooden block usually of cherry wood, the carver chisels and cuts to create the original in negative—with the lines and areas to be colored raised in relief. Ink is applied to the surface of the woodblock. Rubbing a round pad over the back of a piece of paper laid over the top of the inked board makes a print.

Polychrome prints were made using a separate carved block for each color, which could number up to twenty. To print with precision using numerous blocks on a single paper sheet, a system of placing two cuts on the edge of each block to serve as alignment guides was employed. Paper made from the inner bark of mulberry trees was favored, as it was strong enough to withstand numerous rubbings on the various woodblocks and sufficiently absorbent to take up the ink and pigments. Reproductions, sometimes numbering in the thousands, could be made until the carvings on the woodblocks became worn."

Condition: Intact and excellent. Some creasing from folds.

Provenance: private East Coast USA collection

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