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The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection

Genji Ukifune
approx. 1741-1744, by Okumura Masanobu (Japanese, 1686–1764)
Woodblock print; ink and hand applied colors on paper

A boat bearing an attractive couple drifts along by the light of a waning moon, in a tongue-in-cheek mitate rendering of a famous episode from The Tale of Genji. The novel relates that in an effort to win the beautiful Ukifune's affections, Genji's grandson Niou takes her one wintry day on an excursion to the Isle of Oranges. The Ukifune scene is typically depicted with snow or the orange trees on the island, and Ukifune usually sits upright facing Niou in the boat.

Masanobu's offers instead a more languid scene, in which the Kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu I, nattily attired in a checked jacket and stylish coiffure, taps a hand drum for a reclining courtesan who rests on one elbow with snacks and sake close at hand. The words of a love song hang in the air:

Yuki ya yuki ya
mi wa ukibune
ni tsumoru koi

Heavy snow,
settling in a drifting boat
my heart is filled with longing

Sanogawa Ichimatsu had recently made his debut on the Edo stage when this print was made, rapidly rising to the status of matinee idol. His adoring fans would have enjoyed seeing him thus imagined in a romantic scene from a literary classic. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection , 2005.100.9.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.