Japanese Shunga Woodblock Print

Antique Japanese Shunga Erotic Art Painting on Silk | Meiji Original Spring Picture: Sanpi


Age:Late Meiji period (1880's-1910's)

Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 15-0” h x 22-1/2”l

Ukiyo-e, often translated as "pictures of the floating world," refers to Japanese paintings and woodblock prints that originally depicted the cities' pleasure districts during the Edo Period, when the sensual attributes of life were encouraged amongst a tranquil existence under the peaceful rule of the Shoguns. These idyllic narratives not only document the leisure activities and climate of the time, but they also depict the decidedly Japanese aesthetics of beauty, poetry, nature, spirituality, love, and sex.

This detailed artwork is a sub-genre of Ukiyo-e called shunga depicting a sexual experience in an erotic painting on silk. This watercolor drawing deploys an aerial perspective which was a noted feature of Japanese art, depicting three individuals; an Ashigaru wearing a jingasa, a camp hat that warriors wear when traveling or encamped, his sword and bag on his waist; a Sābanto, (servant), behind the woman wearing his hachimaki, both engaged with a woman with a coif, (hairstyle) in horizontal and vertical textiles that intersect at the group. All three participants begin to intersect in the curvilinear forms of their figures in the passion of the moment. This outdoor setting depicts a monkey on a plum branch to the left, all playing amongst clouds dispersed through the drawing. Signature: Most Shunga was signed but his piece has an untranslated signature. Not shown is a gold border framing the piece that has been mounted on paper.

Condition: Very good color and rendering. As you can see by the image, there is foxing of the light background with light surface wear. This piece would need archival framing with matt to protect the fine artwork which was taken into account when the price was determined.

NOTE: This piece was purchased in 1976 at a wonderful antique shop named: Bijutsu Ātotatsumi in Kumamoto, Japan, (see interior image of the shop). A famous Japanese family named Moronobu was in the textile business during the same time frame as the Ukiyo-e shunga were being produced, and his influence was seen in all the Ukiyo-e works illustrating not only his knowledge in the pattern of the robes but also in his understanding of how the fabric moves when on the human body. His mastery of line originated in his understanding of calligraphy as shown here, in his varying thickness of preciseness to create the figures and their surroundings.

One characteristic of shunga during these periods is the enormous quantity of production of both paintings and woodblock prints. During the Edo and Meiji periods, it was not only men who appreciated shunga, but that women were also customers. Further, there clearly was interest in shunga from the young and old, regardless of status or location, and included commoners in the cities, farmers, as well as first-class intellectuals, and powerful daimyos.