Kunisada, Lingering Sentiments of a Late Collection of Genji - Hanachirusato

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Lingering Sentiments of a Late Collection of Genji (Genji goshû yojô) Ch. 11: Hanachirusato, 1858. Oban.

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This is a fantastic introduction to the highest standards of Japanese woodblock printing. Even from the scan, it is easy to see the deeply blind embossed background, the rich surface of the paper, the fine crisp cutting of the blocks, obsessive attention to detail and the tremendous confidence of the artist, the block-cutter and the printer.

The print is derived from gōkan, a kind of popular literature with pictures. The books (42 in total) were a parody of the world of the Genji Monogatari ("The Tale of Genji") written by Murasaki Shikibu in the Heian period. The books, (A Fake Murasaki and A Rural Genji) were a series of long stories adapted from The Tale of Genji, the first issue of which was released in 1829. After that, thirty-eight books (each with 4 volumes) were issued in total. The original - sometimes said to be the first true novel - was written in the 12th century and was held in very high esteem in Edo Japan.

Kunisada illustrated the books as they were published. This series of prints, Lingering Sentiments of a Late Collection of Genji (Genji goshû yojô) was a pun on The Fifty-four Chapters of the Tale of Genji (Genji gojûyojô). The prints were available singly or in pairs and each print has a companion although they are not traditionally seen as true diptychs. The British museum has this to say:

Kunisada and his pupils designed no less than thirty-seven Genji print series between 1835 and 1866, totalling thousands of images. The series, Genji goshū yojō (Lasting Impressions of a Late Genji Collection), is considered the best. The Japanese title puns on the phrase ‘Album of Fifty-Four Genji [Chapters]’. Kunisada also designed erotic versions of the parody, issued as several sets of three-volume, deluxe colour-printed books.

The Kunisada authority, Andreas Marks says:

Kunisada's major, opulent Genji series…clearly intended as the climactic masterpiece of his many adaptations of A Country Genji.

This is an important print series, lavish, academic and widely discussed. The delicacy of the designs and the printing and especially the light colour of the background demand that the sheets be in pristine condition. Many museum copies are quite soiled and this distracts from the elegant beauty of the design. This sheet is in fine condition, colour impression and condition are all fine and the blocks are outstandingly crisp.

Publisher: Wakasaya Yoichi (Jakurindô).