Japanese Early Meiji Watercolours & Prints
This is a very fine collection of Japanese works on paper c.1870s. Predominantly watercolours, along with a few woodblock prints, they were once compiled together in a scrapbook of nori-ire gajo construction, where each page folded out to double its size. The works are wide-ranging in their subjects, featuring natural history subjects such as carp, birds, cherry blossom, aubergine and butterflies, and historical and mythological scenes including warriors, holy men and noh masks. The watercolour paintings follow the Eastern tradition of depicting objects with very little setting, often featuring a single subject on a plain background.
Dating from the early Meiji period, they represent the mix of styles and influences in Japanese art of the late 19th century. There are elements of the more formalised decorative styles of the earlier Kano and Tosa schools. Most of the works also show the influence of the Nanga school, which embraced the loose and expressive style of Chinese wash paintings. The introduction of Western elements of naturalism and realism – welcomed by the new Meiji (enlightened rule) emperor – is also evident.
Possibly from a variety of hands, there is nevertheless a consistency to the pictures’ presentation and materials, and some – on overlapping washi sheets – were evidently painted after being laid down. Many are possibly the original “funpon” or sketches for book illustrations (some of the paintings have empty space left for text) or future woodblock prints (in woodblock print production the final copy would be destroyed in the process of creating the blocks, but the original preparatory sketch is often extant). Some are inscribed with characters in an old, traditional form of kanji. Generally in good condition for their age, having been kept in a scrapbook, some of the pictures have minor suffered damage from a book-boring insect.
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