Toyokuni I, A Panel from the Shunga Album Kaichu Kagami

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) A Panel from the Shunga Album Kaichu Kagami, 1823. Oban Diptych. 

We don’t show shunga very often since it is a specialist field; however, this very nice piece constitutes one panel of two, conjoined sheets from a highly regarded album by the founder of the Utagawa School, Toyokuni I. The album, Ehon Kaichu Kagami, featured in both the British Museum Shunga show of 2014 and Phaidon’s Poem of the Pillow and other Stories, where many of the plates are reproduced.

Erotic books designed by Utagawa Toyokuni I include many illustrations on macabre themes. This one, for example, features images of a gruesome love-suicide and a man having sex with a skeleton… The title, Kaichu kagami translates as 'mirror of the vagina', and includes sequences of illustrations, an innovation at the time. The scene here is a complex narrative; the old man is a blind masseur - in Japan, only the blind were allowed to act as masseurs and the page is usually referred to as The Blind Masseur Anma San. Anma describes just the practice of a type of massage from which shiatsu is largely derived. The woman is gaining sexual pleasure from both his attentions but also from looking at a shunga album laying open in front of her. Her 'looking' is in marked distinction to his frustration at not seeing.

The impression and colour of this first edition are really outstanding. The condition is very good except for the obvious losses at the bottom of the page. These losses have been repaired at some point in the past and do not impact over much on the image.

A copy of the volume is at the British Museum, London

19cm x 25cm.