Kunichika, Shunga Leaf from 'Geisha From the House of Spring Flowers' - Yakatabune

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Shunga Leaf from 'Geisha From the House of Spring Flowers': Yakatabune, 1860’s.

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A ‘double leaf’ shunga by Kunichika from a book titled, Geisha From the House of Spring Flowers, of the 1860’s. The book itself had fifteen colour pages, of which two were double pages. It’s a lovely piece and in perfect condition. A pristine sheet packed with incident and fine draughtsmanship.

Kunichika pictures two lovers under the roof of a Yakatabune. These craft were (and indeed still are) often used for dining and entertaining. They appear frequently in Japanese woodblock prints and the slatted wooden blinds and the design of the boats themselves gave artists a rich vocabulary of perspectives, viewpoints and angles with which to play. That is clearly the case here. We the viewers are positioned above the boat, on the quayside possibly, glancing as a voyeur into the open sided boat.

In Edo Japan nudity, mixed bathing, public intercourse, prostitution and so on were quite tolerated and this is evident from the many books and prints that treat sexual matters with an explicitness many still find shocking. The subject of this print I think reflects these social conditions. Voyeurism was considered highly sexually charged. Many shunga prints - like this one - take secretive looking as their subject matter… a consequence of the very public nature of private life. To be clothed and sexually active was far more sexually charged than to be simply naked which was in itself not a thing of great moment.

This print is very fine. Kunichika shunga is extremely rare. This print is a tremendous design… the strong diagonals that divide the rectangle reveal the intense patterns and closeness of the entwined couple. The boatman, seen from behind, is aware and alert to the muffled sounds within. The image is explicit but also tender. The sexual nature is heightened by the luxurious fabrics, the bowl of food just visible and the intense blue and white of the ripples lower left. The colour and condition and the impression are all very fine.

Published by Ryou Sui Tei.

22 x 16.5 cm.