Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bargain hunt

I love auctions and often surf through online catalogues to see if there's anything worth viewing and perhaps bidding for. Last week I spotted a lot which definitely got me interested and after visiting the auction rooms I was determined to bid – but I would be on the road up to Liverpool on Saturday! I'd have to put in a 'commission bid' and trust the auctioneer to bid for me. I've never done this before, I cautiously filled out the form and hesitated over the price to put as my limit. The upper estimate might not be enough but I didn't want to pay too much.

On Sunday evening I checked the auction web site, the price realised for 'my lot' was below the figure I'd put on the form – I must have won!!!! Hurray!!!! So on Monday I collected my bargain buy . . .

. . . a couple of tatty old picture frames . . .

containing two Japanese woodcuts :-) I'm chuffed to bits! (it doesn't take much)

The first one is by . . .

Hiroshige! Well, probably it's Hiroshige II (1829 - 1869) or Hiroshige III (1842 - 1894) – not the main man Ando Hiroshige (now that would be amazing). Hiroshige II was the talented pupil of Ando Hiroshige who became his master's adopted son and married his daughter. When the couple divorced Ando Hiroshige's daughter married another pupil of the master who took the name Hiroshige III. The confusing thing is that all three artist's signatures are very similar! Lot's more research is needed!
see below

In the background of this print is a crowd standing on a bridge watching a firework display. I love the woodgrain texture across the night sky and the sense that the crowd is brightly lit from behind.

In the foreground a woman (I think?) crouches in a covered barge – why is she hiding? I wish I could read Japanese and translate the title! It's so clever how the hair is printed first in a translucent dark grey and then a solid black. That little wisp of hair at her temple is so cute, is it to show she is slightly dishevelled? And the way the fabric pattern is printed is gorgeous.

The second print is a bigger puzzle. There is a note on the mount saying it is by Yoshichikaan artist I can find little about. Prints I've found purporting to be by him have a signature which don't match this . . .

The scene of sumptuously dressed ladies walking by a river in which there are half naked men, is cheeky and extremely decorative. I'll have to get the title translated and find out what it's all about! There is so much going on in the design, the detail in the fabric patterns is awesome – amazing skilled work.

A bargain!

Postscript: 18 December 2008
This is what I've discovered so far:

The first print is most likely to be by Hiroshige II, the apprentice and adopted son of Ando Hiroshige. He carried on the master’s great themes and scenes and produced high quality work but not designs of great originality. The signature, mid right, is definitely ‘Hiroshige’ but this was used by all three ‘Hiroshiges’ at some point in their careers. However the style of the signature panel and the lozenge seal seem to be that of Hiroshige II 1829-1869.
The subject is a popular one for printmakers: watching fireworks on the Ryogoku Bridge and from pleasure boats on the river below. Beautiful women in the pleasure boats is another favourite. My hunch is that this is the central panel of a large triptych, as this is is the central part of the boat. Stylistically I would think this dates from about 1860. Each of the three prints would have the title and signature and stand alone as a design – of course the chance of all three images staying together and in good condition for 150 years is slim so a complete set would be far more valuable! But it’s a lovely image by a well known printmaker. I would guess the title refers to the Ryogoku Bridge, pleasure boats, beautiful women, fireworks, or something of that ilk!

The other print, showing a grand lady and attendants beside a river is supposed to be by Yoshichika. But I can’t find out much about him – his signature is shown lower left but I haven’t been able to check this against an authenticated print. I found a reference to an artist called Ichi Yoshichika 1787 – 1872 and a note saying nothing more is known about him!
But I love the depiction of different textile designs and the ‘Onna norimono’ or noblewoman’s palanquin
great reference for one here. The title of the print, top right, might refer to a woman by name with her attendants and bathers. Or it may refer to a well known story of the time.

With a bit more delving I hope to find out more!

Postscript 20 June 2017
While watching an excellent programme about Japan on TV last night, I was inspired to search on google for more information about the 'Horoshige' print. I know that the image must be part of a triptych and depicts people watching fireworks of Ryogoku Bridge. To my surprise in google images I spotted this!

Enjoying the evening cool with fireworks, Ryogoku Bridge (Ryogoku noryo ohanabi)

Utagawa Hiroshige
Japanese, 1797-1858
Yamadaya Shojiro, publisher
Enjoying the evening cool with fireworks, Ryogoku Bridge (Ryogoku noryo ohanabi), 1847-1852
Polychrome woodblock print
Plate: 37.3 x 24.3 cm (14 11/16 x 9 9/16 inches)
Gift of Marshall H. Gould 46.293.11B

So the mystery is solved, I have one third of a  Utagawa Hiroshige's triptych


  1. um...WOW!!! What a fantastic find! We went to Japan earlier this year and loved everything about it. The prints are fabulous - a really interesting period and my jaw dropped when I read the name...even number III is impressive.

  2. Fabulous fine, I especially like the final picture on the blog. I would definitely find room in my cluttered abode for that one!


  3. These are stunning, what great pieces you've found. It's these kinds of stories that fuel 'the thrill of the hunt!'

  4. So exciting finding a bargain! And you have a good eye too! Those are wonderful.

  5. Auctions are SO exciting, even leaving a bid which I've done once or twice. It seems to me that those prints have ended up in the perfect place, with someone who is knowledgeable and who will love them. We'll wait to see how much they influence your work ... ;)


  6. The people on the bridge watching the fireworks... Beautiful. Simple, but beautiful.

  7. Well done you! I love Japanese woodcuts and yours are a treasure.

  8. How wonderful! They are beautiful!

  9. Oh, oh, oh so exciting. What delight to find these woodcuts! If you like, I will ask my Japanese brother-in-common-law to translate when I see him at Christmas.

  10. I saw "Hiroshige" and thought "Blimey! Celia's got a bargain here!"
    And, indeed, you have. I'm sure someone in the Baren Forum will know more. But whatever transpires, you have two beautiful pieces of work.Fancy someone "bunging them in a couple of tatty frames" like that!
    (And thankyou for showing them to us! Now could we see a picture of your new boots, please?)

  11. Wow! Well done you! Amazing finds...I love the people watching fireworks too, so cute!

  12. New to your blog, glad to have stumbled across it! What a lucky break, those are lovely.

  13. Researching all you can about a Japanese print is like reading a good book - you find out all sorts of things - I've added notes to my original post.

    Original Japanese woodcuts aren't difficult to find and if they are in a general auction, rather than a specialist oriental art sale, they can be picked up relatively cheaply. They were mis-labelled in the catalogue as 'hand-coloured prints' so an on-line search for woodcuts would have missed them ;-)


  14. Hi Celia,
    It's been many months since you published this article, so you may have obtained all the answers by now.
    We have a friend in Cambridge who speaks (and presumably reads) Japanese. He would love to do some research for fun if you still need more info or confirmations. Just let us know.

    Danny & Fiona

  15. You probably already have this information from the internet, but if not it may be of interest to you.



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