Collecting Japanese Prints
This month, the Toshidama Gallery is giving everyone the opportunity to purchase nineteenth century Japanese woodblock prints at extremely reasonable prices. For some, the collection of these outstanding works of art has become a lifetime passion, others of our clients are new to collecting and email us questions about provenance, authenticity, value and so on.
For the majority of people, ukiyo-e (Japanese prints of the theatre, of the ‘floating world’ of the 18th and 19th centuries), are a means to owning authentic, museum quality works of art… pieces identical to those found on museum walls all over the world, for comparatively very little cost. There is no difference between a print by Kuniyoshi bought from this site for a few hundred dollars and those that are on exhibition, or printed in lavish catalogues from say, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston or the Met Museum in New York. In fact, often the quality of print purchases exceeds those of museums that were collecting prints when comparatively few were available on the open market. There is a real thrill in owning a print that is also in the pages of a grand catalogue from a museum show. It may sound like vanity, but even the great collectors of the past amassed their works for much the same reason!
Recent interest in Japanese prints has been developing after a series of ‘blockbuster’ shows in the great museums… Shunga at the British Museum, Kuniyoshi at the Royal Academy, countless shows in Boston and New York and so on. There is also a greater and a growing awareness of the tremendous influence of Japanese art and prints in particular on the development of modernism in Europe in the early twentieth century and of course, the still under acknowledged influence of ukiyo-e on the great movements of impressionism and post-impressionism. Vogue recently featured modern ukiyo-e artists and their reimagining of the genre with contemporary rock and pop imagery, the Guardian newspaper also featured a gift of kabuki portraits by Kunisada and others (some available from this gallery) to the British museum. The world then… or at least the cultural life of the media, seems to be waking up more and more to the importance of ukiyo-e as a cultural driver for our own visual culture.
Understanding these strange and oddly familiar images is a journey in itself. The prints work as decorative objects… they are beautiful things to have, to hold. They look lavish and sumptuous and important on a wall in a living room… but they repay enquiry and research. As you get to know a print, a series of prints, a genre, an artist; the prints open up, converse, talk to you in strange and new and surprising ways. Most if not all prints tell a story of some sort. Ukiyo-e artists were obsessive storytellers and where European artists often revelled in the sublime in landscape, their Japanese counterparts found narrative irresistible. Unwrapping these narratives is a hugely rewarding experience - here at the Toshidama Gallery, we try to provide a full and accurate account of the personage, the play, the story, the circumstances of who, of what, is being illustrated.
These folk stories and myths were entwined with the lowly and gruelling lives of the new urban, metropolitan city dwellers and the prints; great works of art… masterpieces of design, are perhaps more fascinating to us now because they were in many senses Pop Art. That is, a high art made for consumption by masses of people, something that clearly chimes in so many ways with our own vast educated and internationalist middle class
It is absurd in some ways, but also joyful, that prices for woodblock prints remain relatively low, although as investment objects they do accrue in value… some artists like Yoshitoshi, spectacularly so. This month and into January, the Toshidama Gallery is clearing many prints at below market price. This is an opportunity for everyone to make sound investments in objects that will fascinate and impress for a lifetime. The Toshidama Gallery has been trading privately for many years, eight of them online. Do visit our various gallery blogs and please do join the gallery mailing list to be informed of latest offers and generous discounts.