Friday, January 14, 2011

A Nation at Play

Utagawa Yoshifuji, Toy zukushi, 1858

These images comes from the beautiful and fascinating Japanese popular prints 
by Rebecca Salter, kindly given to me by the lovely Susan Kelly. 
Susan is a former colleague and good friend of mine who currently lives 
in London and works at A &C Black, where she was the book's project's manager.
All the quotes in this post come from the author's very informative texts,
which explore various genres of popular prints and the social
and historical background from which they originated.

Utagawa Kunisada III, Kōshi Bath, 1882

"In this charming antrhopomorphic scene, mice replace humans
for a visit to the bath. Bathhouses were not only places to get clean, 
but also popular social venues and in some cases operated as brothels."

Utagawa Yoshifuji, Cat's Variety Show, early Meiji period

"A cast of cats attend a performance of a puppet ballad drama in a typical small 
playhouse – a contrast to the much grander (and more expensive) kabuki theatres."

Utagawa Yoshifuji, The Mysterious Cat from the 53 Stages, 1848-49

"Based in a scene from the Edo period playwright Tsuruya Nanboku's 1825
play of horror and ghosts Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan ... The cat's face is made up 
from other cats, the bulging eyes from bells and the tongue from a cat's collar."

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Cat Lover's Animal Puns of the Tōkaidō, 1847-52

"In this print, Kuniyoshi allocates a cat and a pun to each of the 53 stages of the Tōkaidō.
Puns have been made on each place name (some of them rather forced) and the cat
 illustrates the pun. ... Most of the cats shown are of the short tailed variety particularly 
popular with artists and courtesans in the Edo period."

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Substitute Character Cats, c. 1844

"A combination of cats and blowfish (fugu) spell out the word 'fugu'. The well-known 
cat lover Kuniyoshi produced many works featuring cats, but this calligraphic series 
counts as one of his best. The final touch is the cat's collar complete with bell decorating
 the cartouche shiwng the artist's name and a fugu and fishnet device for the title."

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Fish with Human Characteristics, early 1840s

"These fish portraits are Kuniyoshi's response to the clampdown on actor's portraits.
A well-known actor's face was grafted onto a fish body. In the presentation of these fish
 there is an echo of European natural history compendia which were known in Japan."

Kuniyoshi is believed to have created as many as 10,000 print designs.
See more of his wonderful works at the ongoing Kuniyoshi Project.

Anon., Parlour Shadow Pictures, 1885

"This toy print shows how to make simple hand shadows 
which any child could imitate."

Utagawa Yoshifuji, Horse zukushi, late 19th century

"Zukushi is not an easy word to translate, the best description perhaps
would be 'an enumeration of things. ... Zukushi are highly visual and consist
of single sheet prints with an arrangement 0f similar/related objects, 
sometimes with no words other than a simple title. They are like early 
pictorial encyclopedias and for children in particular, zukushi 
were an attractive and enjoyable way of absorbing information."

Utagawa Hiroshige II, Insect zukushi1848-53

"A classic zukushi-style enumaration of named insects. Even though it was 
designed for children, setting the insects against a woven bamboo background 
results in a sophisticated composition worthy of adult appreciation.
At the time, frogs and lizards were classed as insects."

 See more Zukushi prints at Ephemera Assemblyman.



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