Woodblock print on paper, depicting two richly dressed Japanese courtesans either side of Prince Genji seated at the edge of a river, produced by the Japanese woodblock artist Utagawa Yoshitora ( - c.1888), and published by Izumiya Ichibei in Tokyo, Japan, in October 1862. It is possibly the central panel of an original triptych; a work of art comprised of three distinct panels.

Although works by this artist are not listed in the official catalogue, it was possibly exhibited by a retailer at the Japanese court at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition where it was bought by John Twycross.

Woodblock prints like one could have been exhibited under two categories: Class 22, Printed Paperhangings, or Class 42, Toys.

In Printed Paperhangings, G. Inouye from Osaka exhibited 'Printed Paperhangings', Kiriu-Kosho Kuwaisha (now spelt Kiriu-Kosho Kaisha) and T. Akiyama of Tokyo exhibited 'Paperhangings and artistic papers' and M. Tani, Osaka, exhibited 'Printed Paperhangings'. Printed paperhangings, as a nineteenth century term, often referred to wall papers.

In Class 42, Toys, Kiriu-Kosho Kuwaisha and T. Akiyama of Tokyo are listed as having exhibited 'Dolls, Playing Balls, Painted Pictures, &c'. It is more likely that artistic wood block prints such as this one would have been exhibited in this category because of the vivid, graphic subject matter, that so clearly tells a story.

The scene is a Genji-e or Mitate-e; a paraody illustration of the original Genji story. A popular subject for many Japanese print - or Ukiyo-e - artists in the nineteenth century, 'The Tale of Genji', the classical Japanese novel by Lady Murasaki Shikibu of the late Heian period (794-1185 AD), detailed the lengthy, often complex love adventures of the novel's central character, Prince Genji. The story spawned many parodies, illustrations of which were also prevalent and often termed mitate-e.

In this image, two female courtesans are seen either side of Prince Genji, seated beside the banks of a river, possibly the Oi River. In the river are two topless labourers, who - in the Edo period in Japan - were often used to carry people across rivers in the absence of bridges. Bridges were rarely built across major rivers during the Edo period for military reasons, and the Oi River was renowned as one of the more difficult rivers to cross.

To many in the Melbourne Exhibition's largely western audience, the flattened pictorial form and composition of Japanese prints remained puzzling, and often misunderstood. 'The Japanese pictures were very curious, some of the figures being made to rise considerably above the background', the official catalogue to the exhibition observed, while the Argus newspaper - quoted in the official catalogue - commented of the display of porcelain figures that although 'Stamped with character...the human figure more often than otherwise [is] grotesque in position and humorous in expression.'

Physical Description

Signed Japanese coloured wood block print on paper depicting Prince Genji and two richly dressed women on the banks of the Oi River, prior to crossing.

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