Welcome to the June 2020 exhibition of Japanese prints at the Toshidama Gallery. It is self evident that this is a distressing time for us all; many of us will know of someone who has been affected by illness or lost someone close. Businesses are finding supply chains and commercial activities severely compromised and it is hard to be enthusiastic perhaps about anything. We are proud though to be able to extend some new prints at this time, survivors of world wars, fire storms, earthquakes, plagues and the seemingly relentlessly hostile tide of history.
We take as our theme this month the still highly readable 1873 publication by English aristocrat and grandfather to the Mitford sisters, Lord Redesdale: Tales of Old Japan. The book is still in print and remains one of the earliest, reliable sources of late Edo culture written by a European. The publication is a compendium of many stories that will be so familiar to collectors of Japanese woodblock prints. The ‘tales’ of the title cover the vendetta of the 47 ronin, and there are long chapters which deviate surprisingly from English obsessions with class and retell movingly the stories of working Edoists such as Chobei and his associates. We are showing two excellent related triptychs by Kunisada on that very subject, along side one of the best Ashiyuki of a similar theme that we have ever sold.
One of the most popular stories of heroism in Edo Japan was the republication of the 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden, initially illustrated by Hokusai but later designed in a long series of brocade prints by Kuniyoshi between 1827 and 1830… an undertaking which launched his career and also established the richly coloured single sheet warrior print as one of the dominant genres of 19th century Japan. We are lucky to be able to show two prints from Kuniyoshi’s series alongside another warrior print of Yamaki Hangan Kanetaka from later in his career.
Mitford was fascinated by superstitions and we are showing two ‘cat witch’ prints - a story that he writes about at length. The Yoshitsuya print derives from the Hakkenden story and shows Inukai Genpachi fighting a ghostly cat witch on the veranda of the inn. Elsewhere there are many prints of Otokodate, a subject that Mitford writes about at length in the chapter, ‘A Story of the Otokodate of Yedo’.
There are plenty of exciting prints in the show. As usual we have tried to select prints that will have the widest possible appeal and we are trying hard to keep prices as low as we can. At such a time we are very grateful to all our customers for their continued support and we hope that we can repay continued interest in our tenth year online by consistently showing good quality prints at sensible prices.
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