Harunobu: The Snowball
Artist: Suzuki Harunobu
Title: The Snowball
Famous shunga design of an older woman preparing to throw a snowball at a man in the act of seducing a very young woman. This is only the fifth example known, and seems a strong second to the British Museum copy. The colors are largely unfaded but for the dayflower blue on the screen. As Timothy Clark has written on the British Museum website: “This is one of the finest erotic designs by Suzuki Harunobu, full of the wit and delicacy for which he is so celebrated. This impression appears to have the finest colour, largely unfaded, of any of the four impressions currently recorded. Full colour printing from woodblocks had only been introduced c. 1765, just a couple of years before this design must have been issued. ...The colourful palette, relatively thick paper and such special printing effects are all characteristic of deluxe impressions of designs by Harunobu printed for samurai and other wealthy patrons; predating slightly the more commercial printings of the same images that were sometimes issued subsequently (though no later printing is currently known of this design). This impression apparently unrecorded. Three other impressions are published: 1. Ex-collection Henri Vever. Sotheby's, London, 1997, lot 26 (£7,475); Beres Sale, Paris, 2002, lot 31 (9,600 euros). Illustrated in Richard Lane, '(Teihon) Ukiyo-e shunga meihin shusei', vol. 21: Harunobu, Tokyo, Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1998, col. pl. 18. A more faded impression, with the same essential colour scheme. 2. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Illustrated in Marco Fagioli, 'Shunga', Florence, 1990, plate 15 3. H. M. Kaempfer Collection. Illustrated in Tom and Mary Anne Evans, 'Shunga: The Art of Love in Japan', London, 1975, col. pl. 5. A different colour scheme, with the woman on the left wearing a black jacket and a pale pink used for the woodwork and paler grey used on the wall (both these last two colours incorporate lead white, which has tarnished). It is not possible to say on present evidence which colour scheme might be the earlier printing. For a later, bowdlerized version of the design, see Richard Lane, " 'Love's labour's lost': Some dirty tricks with shunga", Andon, no. 45 (1993).According to the vendor, ex-collection Eugene Biedermann, Switzerland. On a day when the snow is falling and piling up outside, inside a room an adult man is about to have sex with an immature young woman. The young woman does not appear to be objecting: with her right hand she opens the skirts of her kimono, while wrapping her long, hanging left sleeve around the man’s neck. The reason the window is open on such a cold day is, of course, to reveal to us the objectionable goings-on inside, but it also serves to introduce the figure of the man’s wife who is standing just outside and thereby able to witness the events. Sheltered under an umbrella she is just about to throw a snowball at the pair within; clearly she is jealous. Such an implausible scenario was intended to entertain and amuse the viewer.
Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Very well- preserved color and untrimmed.