Monday, 21 May 2018
Watanabe Shōtei’s woodblock prints, “Cicada on Lotus” & “Butterfly on Hydrangea”, 1890
Watanabe Shōtei [渡辺省亭] aka Watanabe Seitei (1851–1918)
(upper image) “Cicada on Lotus,” 1890, from the series of 86 woodblock prints, “Seitei kacho gafu 省亭花鳥画譜 (Seitei's Bird-and-Flower Painting Manual)”, published in 1890 by Ogura Shoten. Two separate colour woodblock panels glued together as a single image (i.e. two prints joined as a single sheet), 24.8 x 31 cm.
(lower image) “Butterfly on Hydrangea,” 1890, from the series of 86 woodblock prints, “Seitei kacho gafu 省亭花鳥画譜 (Seitei's Bird-and-Flower Painting Manual)”, volume 2, published in 1890 by Ogura Shoten. Two separate colour woodblock panels glued together as a single image (i.e. two prints joined as a single sheet), 22.9 x 31.1 cm.
Note: Harrison-Hiett (rare books) offers detailed information about the two-volume book that these woodblock prints feature: http://www.harrison-hiett.com/rare-books/d/kacho-gafu-%5Bvol-1-and-2%5D-english-title%3A-%C3%A2%C2%80%C2%98album-of-birds-and-flowers%C3%A2%C2%80%C2%99/132197
Brown, Louise Norton, “Block Printing and Book Illustration in Japan”, London and New York, 1924, p. 202.
Mitchell, C H, with the assistance of Ueda, Osamu,”The Illustrated Books of the Nanga, Maruyama, Shijo and Other Related Schools of Japan. A Biobibliography”, Los Angeles, 1972, p. 466.
Toda, Kenji, “Descriptive Catalogue of the Japanese and Chinese Illustrated Books in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago”, Chicago, 1931, p. 427.
Condition: Beautifully delicate impressions in pristine condition for their age (note that each sheet consists of two separate plates that have been joined/glued perfectly).
I am selling this pair of extraordinary prints by a true master of the Japanese woodblock tradition for a total cost of [deleted]
If you are interested in purchasing these original woodblock prints please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.
Watanabe Shōtei has the distinction of being one of the first Nihonga artists (i.e. a traditional Japanese artist) to travel to Europe in the nineteenth century. Not only did he visit Europe, but in France he was awarded a bronze medal at the 1878 International Exhibition. Beyond this remarkable achievement of long distance travel, he is also famous for revitalising kachoga (bird-and-flower images) by introducing realistic visual devices of Western art into the comparatively flat planes, high-key tones and delicate colours of the Maruyama-Shijo School.
Regarding the difference between Occidental and Oriental ways of looking at art that Watanabe Shōtei attempted to merge, I’ve just started reading a book that I just can’t put down—except when the cook has made something tasty—that touches upon this particular issue: Claire Roberts’ (2010), “Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong.” In this book Roberts offers insights into what she describes as the “gaping chasm” between the two cultures. Roberts summaries the Chinese artistic outlook—which for the sake of expedience I wish to include the Japanese way of looking—by proposing that Chinese art “places a primacy on the spirit”, and compares this to “modern Western art, which endlessly seeks sensuality and the beauty of abstraction through shape and colour” (p. 44).
Like any brief crystallisation of ideas about culture, there are significant oversights in Roberts' very succinct appraisal of cultural differences, especially when I wish to link these concepts with the cultural differences that Watanabe helped to bridge. Nevertheless, Roberts' idea that the essential cultural difference is between “spirit” and “sensuality” is fascinating to contemplate in terms of these prints. (My apologies to Claire Roberts if I have misinterpreted this aspect of her wonderful book. Sadly, I’m the sort of chap who can watch a movie and on recounting what it was all about finds out that he alone perceived the movie that way … weird!)