Kunisada, Genji Triptych

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Genji Triptych, 1860. Oban Triptych.

Luxe, Calme et Volupté… .  Matisse’s dictum and painting are surely distant cousins to these Genji pieces by Kunisada, these late flowerings (literally in this case) of the spirit of the Floating World, this ukiyo-e which had such reverberations on artists of the twentieth century. Charles Baudelaire’s poem L'Invitation au voyage contains the lines;

There, all is order and beauty,
Luxury, peace, and pleasure.

… a virtual declaration of the spirit of ukiyo. Baudelaire was of course a huge admirer of all things Japanese and so the links between this overwhelmingly beautiful print and Matisse’s great painting are forged.

The Tale of Genji is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, around the peak of the Heian period. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. Notably, the work also illustrates a unique depiction of the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period. It was popular throughout the ukiyo period but became a craze in nineteenth century Japan following new translations and subsequent satires. Kunisada produced dozens of triptychs and several series on the subject as did other artists

In this lush print whose colours sizzle and crackle we see Prince Genji on the left, leaning languidly against a palanquin. His servant is receiving gifts of morning-glory flowers from a beautiful girl  standing on the steps of her house, whose child servant looks on, holding Genji’s sword erect. The symbolism here is somewhat heavy handed… the soft open trumpets of the flowers, the pink folds of the girl’s open kimono that look like a vulva and of course the erect sword… . It’s a great print; the colours are as fresh as if they were printed yesterday. The impression is perfect and the condition, (excepting a very few worm holes) is outstanding. A superb piece.

74 x 36 cm.