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Edo-period professions come to life

May 10. 2019
Visitors listen to an explanation of
Visitors listen to an explanation of "Hamaguri uri" at a private viewing at the Sumida Hokusai Museum on April 22. /Yomiuri Shimbun
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Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

A newly discovered Hokusai painting forms the centrepiece of Tokyo exhibition

A NEWLY discovered painting by noted Edo-period ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) has just gone on display at the Sumida Hokusai Museum in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. The museum recently announced the discovery of the work depicting an itinerant clam merchant.

It is part of a special exhibition titled “Edo Livelihoods by Hokusai” and will be on display until Sunday. 

The newly discovered Hokusai painting “Hamaguri uri” (Clam vendor) is the centrepiece of a new exhibition at the Sumida Hokusai Museum. (Courtesy of Sumida Hokusai Museum)

According to the museum, the painting, which measures 94.3cm by 27.9cm, features an Edo Period (1603-1867) street merchant called “botefuri”, who carried fish, vegetables and other wares in baskets hanging from a pole. The man sports a beard and shabby clothes, and is taking a break from his work under a moonlit sky.

The painting is inscribed with a signature that reads “Sori”, the alias used by Hokusai when he was around 40. Based on this and other clues, the painting is believed to have been created in the ninth or 10th year of the Kansei era (1797-98).

The museum came into possession of the painting last year after Sumida Ward purchased it from a commercial art dealer, but details on who owned the artwork before that are unknown, according to the museum.

The museum concluded it to be an authentic Hokusai painting based on its unique style, the signature and other characteristics. It named the work “Hamaguri uri” (“Clam vendor”) because the basket the merchant carries is thought to be filled with hamaguri clams.

According to the museum, Hokusai was born in what is now Sumida Ward. He became interested in drawing at the age of six and went on to produce ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings for his entire life.

At around 70, he released “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”, a series of woodblock prints that would come to be known as his definitive work and have a major influence on European and other artists.

He is believed to have produced about 30,000 works before his death. The museum owns about 1,800 works by Hokusai and his apprentices.

“Even though he painted characters’ faces with quick strokes, their expressions come through quite clearly. We also hope visitors enjoy reading the information panels accompanying the works at the exhibition,” says the museum’s Maho Yamagiwa.

A craftsmen works on a tub with Mount Fuji in the distant background in this woodblock print from Hokusai’s “Fujimigahara in Owari Province, from the series “Thirtysix Views of Mount Fuji.” (Courtesy of Sumida Hokusai Museum)

“Hamaguri uri,” on exhibit for the first time, is one of several ukiyo-e works by Hokusai and his apprentices included in the special exhibition, which offers a detailed look at occupations during the Edo period.

The exhibition features about 80 artworks that depict common people’s day jobs during the era, from hairdressers and hikyaku mailman that are still well-known today to more unique professions like sellers of “ayame ningyo” – dolls made of iris that were used as decoration – and paper scrap collectors. Accompanying panels offer detailed explanations of the professions and their historical background.

Some of the artworks in the current exhibition will be replaced for a second exhibition to be held from May 21 to June 9. “Hamaguri uri” will only be displayed during the first exhibition. The entrance fee is 1,000 yen (Bt300) for adults. 


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