Collection of Surimono Depicting Books & Scrolls.
Japan: c. 1800-1850. (16)ff. A collection of sixteen surimono depicting scenes that include books and scrolls, dating mostly from the early part of the 19th century. Surimono are Japanese woodblock prints in miniature. They were made in small numbers and generally not sold by art publishers, unlike their more commercialized companions, ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Most surimono contain poetry with images surrounding the poems. They were distributed among members of a literary club called ren, which practiced the art of writing poetry generally under the instruction of a known master. Most surimono were distributed among members of the club as good wishes for the New Year, which begins in late February in Japan. The poetry itself is of secondary importance, as its meaning would only be known among the members of the poetry circle. It is the illustrations, often heightened with mica, silver, and embossing, that bring such beauty to these normally small square prints. The coming of spring was often represented with plum blossoms and other flowering trees and brilliant colors. The imagery often depicts animals of the zodiac, beautiful women, flowering trees, or still lifes. Books and scrolls are sometimes included, but are not common. To our knowledge, a collection of surimono focused on books and scrolls has never been gathered together. For the last twenty years, we have accumulated sixteen surimono which contain literary images, along with the more traditional illustrations found in this genre. The artists included are Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868), Toyota Hokkei (1780-1858), Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), Yanagawa Shigenobu II (1787-1832), Ryuryukyo Shinsai (1764-1820), and Suga Shoho (1790-1852). The artists of two of the surimono are anonymous. One illustration by Yanagawa Shigenobu II, the pupil, and later son-in-law, of the master Hokusai, depicts a courtesan tuning a samisen while sitting in front of a book of poetry. A cat sits by her side, and cherry blossoms are behind her. Patterns on the hem of her kimono, her hair ornaments, and her calligraphy brush are heightened with metallic silver ink, and her instrument and inkwell have decoration in gold. In another surimono by Yashima Gakutei, perhaps the most prolific of all surimono artists, the poetess Murasaki Shikibu sits next to her writing desk among stacks of books. The border around the image and the moon overhead are printed in silver, and her colorful kimono is partially patterned in silver. The largest surimono in the collection depicts pages from a famous illustrated book, Hykanunin isshu, a collection of one hundred poems by one hundred famous poets. Other surimono in the collection depict still lifes with books and writing instruments, and poets accompanied by animals of the zodiac. The prints range in size from 12 by 17 inches to 5 1/4 by 7 1/4 inches and are in fine condition. The longest is in a panorama format, measuring 22 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches. Together with a group of four reference books about surimono; details available upon request. (Item ID: 24926)