Surimono: 'Number Three: In the Shade of a Tree', Series: 'Famous Horses'

Surimono are small prints that were originally meant to be invitation cards for a gathering at poetry clubs, mostly in and around Edo (Tokyo). They were designed by many great artists at the beginning of the 19th century and were mostly printed with great care. Surimono often had a poem on the front and sometimes a hint towards the season. They were private issues, without censorship seals. They were smaller, the quality of the prints was better and the designs were real examples of miniature art. The surimono was the ultimate medium for the artist (designer, woodcutter and printer) to show his mastership. There are several paper sizes known, but a surimono is never bigger than a normal (western) book and seldom smaller than a postcard.  This original surimono print from 1834 shows its age, yet it is a beautiful example of an art form that has withstood the test of time.  The artwork is exceptional.  True surimono prints are exceedingly rare. (Artist/print info will be provided on rear of frame)  This surimono print, which floats on its ivory mat measures 9" x 8", nearly square.  It is matted in black, with a gold tone border, which looks green in the photos.  The silver frame, with charcoal touches  measures 15" x 13.5".  This specimen is slightly faded, especially in the delicate pink of the cherry blossoms below the cloud, with toning and foxing. This print has several old worm holes, all in the cream tone washi paper.           P7598   $495.00


Yanagawa Shigenobu II was reportedly the son of a samurai poet, scholar, and Osaka official named Shiga Risai (1762-1840). Shigenobu's earliest known work was an illustrated verse anthology published in 1824, which he signed Tanishirô Yanagawa. He also signed another anthology as Yanagawa Juzan in 1825. After the death of his teacher Shigenobu I in 1833, he took his teacher's name and began signing as Shigenobu II.  He was also an illustrator of popular fiction until around 1860.  This 'surimono' was privately issued print for the year of the horse, 1834.  We do not know how many were produced, but they typically were used as a greeting, often a New Year's greeting sent to family, friends and associates, so a small printing.  It is signed Nisei Yanagawa Shigenobu ga ("Drawn by the second Yanagawa Shigenobu").  The series title, Meiba zoroe ("Famous Horses"), appears in a gourd shaped cartouche, which alludes to Chokkarô, a Taoist immortal who carried a horse inside a gourd, which he released when he needed to travel.  The title of the print is San konoshitakage ("Number Three: In the Shade of a Tree").  The beautiful woman (who is compared to the daughter of the Dragon King in the second poem) wears elegant, voluminous courtly attire patterned with flowering vines. She holds her hood to keep it from blowing off in the wind. The positioning of the poems along a diagonal complements the slanting rain. There is exceptionally fine embossing of the robes and extensive application of metallic pigments throughout, including the rain and the stylized cloud. The printing in this delicate example is precise and finely articulated, a characteristic of many mid-1830s surimono.

The three poems all mention spring rain and flowers, or flowering cherry. The presence of verses can be a mysterious element in surimono, their significance or meaning sometimes remaining rather obscure even to those who are fluent in Edo-period Japanese. Occasionally, however, the poetry translates well and adds significantly to our understanding of the marriage of design and verse. In this case, for example, the romantic view of a young beauty seeking shelter under a flowering cherry tree and the emotional resonance of the composition is enhanced by the poems, as in the first, which includes the phrase "I tether the pony of my heart with threads of spring rain." It is an expressive linguistic equivalent of Shigenobu's graphic art.  

Yanagawa Shigenobu II (Active 1824-1860) Surimono: #3 'In the Shade of a Tree'


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