Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Gauguin in Print

...or maybe that should be prints in Gauguin...Japanese prints, that is. There’s a big show of Paul Gauguin’s paintings at the Tate Gallery in London this month. He’s a little overlooked compared to contemporaries such as Van Gogh so the current show comes as a welcome revival. The huge influence of Japanese prints in the work of both artists should not be underestimated. Van Gogh made direct copies of Hiroshige prints, writing to his brother that, "this day I have found something wonderful that I shall surely copy," but it is perhaps less well known that Gauguin also made copies of Japanese prints as in the two paintings illustrated.

Woodblock prints were used to pack trade goods towards the end of the nineteenth century. The flat areas of colour, the perspective and the unusual compositions chimed with the young artists of Europe and were quickly assimilated with the innovations of Cezanne and the Impressionists to make a modern, symbolist art that was more sensuous, more decadent and more abstract than the European tradition. All of this is very evident in these two pictures. Gauguin’s debt is clear enough in the painted copies of the prints and the flattened space of the later painting, as is his debt to Cezanne in the brushstrokes and composition.

Surely though, his later paintings from Tahiti display all the characteristics of the floating world... the lazy, sexual undercurrent, the panoramas of available women, the absence of the modern day and the explicit suggestion of pleasure, all laid out frieze-like on the canvas against a background of flat colour or worked pattern.

I’ve done a bit of research to identify the prints in these paintings... the later still life depicts a print by Utagawa Yoshiiku from 1864 of the actor Ichikawa Kodanji playing the hunter Nagohe with his wild white hair and a spear in his hand. The other painting shows an actor print by Kunisada. We are showing two warrior prints by Yoshiiku in the current exhibition at the Toshidama Gallery along with other major artists of the Utagawa School.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Japanese Prints. Why? (2)

Warrior, courtesan, witch, wizard, demon, actor, ghost... what’s not to like? For English readers there’s a show of Japanese prints opening in Oxford called Japanese Ghosts and Demons: Ukiyo-e prints from the Ashmolean. Toshidama Gallery is showing some of these artists in our opening exhibition.

We’re showing this very fine print of the actor Ichikawa Danjuro as the ghost of the betrayed wife Uwanari by Kunichika, from 1898. She comes back from the dead to haunt her philandering husband through the ghost of her daughter. The picture on the left is a rare nineteenth century photograph of Danjuro... without the mask! The Hannya mask is said to be dangerous and demonic, but also sorrowful and tormented. The print is in near perfect condition and sparkles with mica dust and embossed details.

The show opens on the 7th of October and runs for six weeks. It features works by Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, Toyohiro, Kunisada, Yoshitoshi, Yoshiiku and others. There are landscapes, demons, warriors, heroes, beautiful women, actors and giant fish! The work is all museum quality, archive mounted and safe shipped. You can browse the show... buy greetings cards and purchase with confidence using our secure online payment gateway.

We love this work, we think it’s important and we hope you will also appreciate it. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing the world of Edo Japan, through art work of the period and showcasing individual prints, their background, their history and the stories behind them.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Japanese Prints. Why?

Some people say, ‘why Japanese prints?’... or, ‘it’s a bit niche isn’t it?’ Well, yes and no. The market for Japanese prints is large. Pensive Love, 1790, by Utamaro fetched €313,00 at auction in 2002. A fine Hiroshige can sell for up to $30,000 at the moment. There are major sales by all the big auction houses twice a year, and all the major international museums have large collections and put on regular exhibitions. Ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, are a major art form, they are a good solid investment and the market is stable and rising. Most of all they’re simply unbelievably beautiful.

The nice thing about collecting Japanese prints is that the period is fairly confined, the artists are very consistent and the prices are mainly affordable. It’s still within most budgets to purchase a first edition Kuniyoshi and see it in a major exhibition or illustrated in a text book.
The key thing, as in all art collecting is to love the work, love the artist... become involved in their world, their dreams, their obsessions. The Utagawa School is a good place to start. The work of these artists is popular, available and accessible, there are plenty of text books available and a lot of good online source material. We can point you in the direction of online resources if you see something you like and want to find out more about it. This blog is intended to open the window on an art form, and a world of decadence and mystery gone for ever.

Illustrated is Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners: Looking itchy - The Appearance of a Kept Woman of the Kansei Era, 1888, from the current exhibition at the Toshidama Gallery. It’s a ‘trophy piece’, if you like. It’s a very famous print; a Google search will take you to it as a large image on Wikipedia and it tends to be the representative image of this artist. It is a fine and knowing piece of drawing and a fine example of the skill of the printmaker.