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Bijin jūni kagetsu ((Beauties in the twelve months): number 1 - hagonda (shuttlecock) January
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Bijin jūni kagetsu ((Beauties in the twelve months): number 1 - hagonda (shuttlecock) January
Work Type
colour woodcuts
colour woodcut
Overall: 717mm (width), 376mm (height)

Miyagawa Shuntei (1873-1914) was a specialist in kuchi-e (literally: 'mouth piece' frontispiece prints) which heralded a new "discourse on the social construction of girlhood" and womanhood in its focus on sentimental Western notions of romantic love in Japan. He worked in a neo-traditional ukiyo-e mode, evocative of the past but making obvious to anyone that his prints were from the turn of the century. In compositions reminiscent of earlier Yamato-e 'Japanese-picture' genre scenes, Shuntei celebrates the worlds of middle-class women and children at leisure. These themes are reflected in print series titles like Customs of Children (1896) and his celebrated triptych series Bijin junikagetsu (Beauties in the twelve months). In each of the latter series, Shuntei depicts groups of women and children gathering shells and swimming, enjoying picnics in gardens, playing games, and enjoying the changing seasons according to the month. Te Papa acquired three of these compositions from the Heriot collection.

The yakkodako human-shaped kite caught high in a tree signals the New Year and the month of January for the first work in the series, the three-oban-sheet colour woodblock print triptych, . Bijin juni kagetsu (Beauties in the Twelve Months): number 1 - hagonda (shuttlecock) January. From 1873 Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and celebrated the New Year on 1 January; takoage, kite flying, is still a popular New Year's activity. A playful mood is expressed through the interactions of the adult women in the foreground; one flourishes a hagoita (battledore), having sent a shuttlecock across the scene, the other rushes toward her, a brush in her hand, trying to daub her with ink. A girl and her mother giggle with amusement as they watch them; the shuttlecock lies on the ground before them. A winter setting is conveyed by the bare branches, cloches protecting delicate shrubs from snow and frost, and the almost monochrome setting. The stillness of winter contrasts with the playful movement, intense colour and pattern of the clothing in the composition. The brilliant designs of flowering waterlilies, ume plum blossoms, a peony, and bamboo leaves complement the lively atmosphere, and proclaim the proximity of spring.

The delicate bokashi colour gradation, immaculate registration and variety of design here would have delighted Shuntei's viewers. Printing of this high standard demanded the finest block cutters and printers; his works were produced in Tokyo by the distinguished Meiji publishers Matsuki Heikichi and Akiyama Buemon. Heikichi, owner of Daikokuya, and publisher of this series, was committed to refining the medium. He employed the most luxurious of traditional pigments and the most inventive techniques for bokashi or karazuri gauffrage in projects like this.

Source: David Bell, 'A new vision: modern Japanese prints from the Heriot collection', Tuhinga 31 (2020), forthcoming.

Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art May 2019

Collection: Art
Purchased 2016
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Image and original data provided by Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
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