Kunisada III, Shunga Illustrations from Tales of the Genji 3

Kunisada III (1848 - 1920) Shunga Illustrations from Tale of the Genji #3, c.1880’s. Chuban.

Confusingly, Kunisada III is also known as Baido, Baido Hosai, Hosai, Kunimasa IV and even Toyokuni IV. He is a vastly under-rated artist of the late Edo and Meiji, his theatre triptychs increasingly being compared to the best of his contemporary Edo colleagues. Again we see that the subject matter is derived from the great romantic novel the Tales of the Genji. Tales of the Genji can be said with some justification to be the first true novel. Written in the eleventh century by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, it details the life and love affairs of Prince Genji. It is a long, psychological piece that has had profound influence on literature both within and outside Japan.

It was traditional in Japan to present new brides with illustrated copies of the Tales of the Genji. Scholarship remains divided on the consumption of shunga; the evidence from book-lenders and booksellers is that women were consumers of shunga and there had been a tradition for brides to be given explicit painted shunga scrolls in the manner of the kama-sutra in India. The series from which the three prints on this page are taken is a popular halfway house - both erotic illustration and great literature in one piece. Japanese shunga was produced on a vast scale by the best artists of the day and with the tacit approval of the state. What fascinates about Japanese pornographic art is the absence of the solitary female nude.  Even in the most explicit shunga there is little or no nudity; to be clothed and to reveal was considered a highly sexually charged situation. Nudity in Japan was commonplace, with women and men scantily clad in the summer months, and mixed bathing and public washing commonplace. The naked form was therefore divested of its power to titillate. The act of having sex however was highly regarded and there was nothing shameful about both sexes enjoying sexual encounters.

These three prints are exceptionally beautiful and it would be hard to take offence at the rich, deluxe images of luxury and sensual pleasure. These are jewel-like pieces. These prints were produced at great expense using the best quality materials - the colours are rich and the surface shimmers with gold, metallic inks and rich, double printing. Each sheet is a fine impression and condition and colour are all very fine.

18cm x 23cm.