Kunisada: Prince Genji and Abalone Divers (Sold)

  • Sold.

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada
Title: “Illustration of Divers at Ise Making Abalone Strips” (Ise no ama naga awabi tsukuri no zu).

Date: 1860

“Illustration of Divers at Ise Making Abalone Strips” (Ise no ama naga awabi tsukuri no zu). Prince Genji (Mitsuuji)  is shown center in his princely attire, holding a folding fan in his right hand and a highly decorated tobacco pipe in his left. His kneeling attendant holds at the ready what must be his smoking accessories. He watches with interest the abalone divers processing their catch on shore. To the right, a diver and child haul their boat ashore; a diver carries a mesh bag full of harvested abalone towards the group at left. We see three topless abalone divers seated on woven mats,; one woman pries the abalone from the shell, while another woman cuts the abalone into even strips. A third woman organizes the strips, and we see a fourth woman in the background laying the strips out to dry in the sun In the background are two more diving boats, each with two women and an oarsman. Harvesting abalone was traditionally done by women, who wore only a red skirt for this difficult and dangerous job. Their topless aspect naturally gave images of them an erotic undertone, apparently. The huge success of the Rustic Genji serialized novel by Ryutei Tanehiko (published between 1829-1832) created  a craze of “Genji Pictures”, most of them designed by Kunisada. We see Genji in almost every setting, including many that were never part of either the original 12th century “Tale of Genji” or the later Rustic Genji novels.

Condition: Excellent impression and color; very good condition. In upper corners are embossed Japanese collector’s seals. Untrimmed and unbacked. Minor stains in upper right sheet. First edition.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37 x 77 cm)
Signature: Toyokuni ga
Literature: See Marks “Genji’s World in Japanese Woodblock Prints”, page 238, number 251.