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Harunobu, Suzuki (Japanese, b.1725, d.1770)
Settsu Kinuta-no Tamagawa (Kinuta Crystal River in Settsu Province)
Toi-no-tamagawa in setsu
woodblock print on paper
270 x 205 mm (paper size)
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Given 1982 by Mary, Dora and Esmond de Beer through the National Art Collections Fund, London.
Suzuki Harunobu was one of the most important contributors to the early development of nishiki-e or ‘brocade pictures’. These prints were characterised by complex polychrome compositions, with fields of finely articulated pattern. His works set new standards of elegance in the representation of the human figure and in the construction of subtle pictorial allusions.
The ‘Crystal River’ of the title of this work is one of six in Japan: they were a popular pictorial theme. In this instance the Kinuta Crystal River is suggested, rather than represented directly, through the women beating cloth in the foreground: the actual river was a popular laundry location. The two little prints pasted to the wall at upper left are river scenes, and another reference is contained in the poem by Yoshitori:
The sighing of the pine branches
Sharpens the autumn loneliness,
Where they beat cloth by the
banks of the Tama River.
Here the persimmon tree seen through the window stands in for the pine branches. The traditional moonlight setting for this scene is suggested rather whimsically by the oil lamp on the wall, and by the tiny moon in one of the two small prints beside it. Pictures like this were known as mitate-e – ‘likeness’ or ‘parody pictures’.

not on view

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