Gekko, Gekko's Miscellaneous Drawings - The Lonely House at Asajigahara

Ogata Gekko (1859 - 1920) Gekko’s Miscellaneous Drawings (Gekko Zuihitsu): The Lonely House at Asajigahara, 1886. Deluxe Oban.

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This is a tremendous image and a masterpiece of late Japanese woodblock printing. The series, Miscellaneous Drawings, gathered together tales, stories and myths of Japan and pictured them in an extraordinary, realistic style. The prints defy normal woodblock technique having this soft, almost Western watercolour quality. During his lifetime Gekko became internationally famous showing at the great European and American international exhibitions, winning prizes and tremendous acclaim. He is less well known these days but his prints are among the great achievements of Meiji culture. Designed almost as a mirror to Yoshitoshi’s famous One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, here Gekko pictured the myths, stories and tragedies of traditional Japanese culture.

The series Gekko Zuihitsu (Gekko's Essays/Miscellaneous Drawings) is among the artist's major works. It was created in 1886 and 1887 and published by Matsuki Heikichi in 1887. It consists of 47 designs plus a title page. What distinguishes this extraordinary series is the watercolour effects wrung from the wooden blocks. The prints have little of the hard, key line and flat colour qualities of traditional woodblock prints. This may in part be due to the fact that Gekko did not have a traditional apprenticeship; he worked as a commercial artist and was primarily a painter who was influenced by the recent influx into Japan of Western art and ideas.

This seemingly ordinary image of a peasant woman at work has a striking and brooding sense of menace… with good reason.  The story is a folk tale of an old woman, servant of a lord who had been struck down by a strange disease. She was aware that the only cure was the blood of children born in a certain month. The old woman roamed the countryside killing children to obtain blood for her magical cure. After some time, and when he had recovered, she confessed to him how she obtained the cure but was pardoned despite the horror of her crimes. In this print, the old woman is seen polishing her knife in preparation for killing her victim. The figure looking in at the window is the messenger of Kannon (The Goddess of Mercy) watching her.

This is a fine print, reasonably rare in this early edition, with margins. The slightly discoloured red/brown cartouche of the title shows that the print is from the early edition; the iron in the ink has slightly oxidised. Later editions have a bright, clear cartouche which used modern Western dyes. Colour, impression and condition are all outstanding. The early edition uses every sophistication of shaded ink and there is embossing and delicate subtlety throughout.

Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi.

35.5 x 23.5 cm.