- Museum number
- Object: Ehon warai jogo 絵本笑上戸 (Picture Book: The Laughing Drinker)
Illustrated erotic book, shunga, colour woodblock print. 3 volumes. Covers: replacement, lilac. Title slips: replacement. Contents: (vol. 1) 16 leaves: 5 single pages of preface, 1 single-page illustration, 7 double-page illustrations, 1 single-page illustration, 10 single pages of text; (vol. 2) 13 leaves: 1 single-page illustration, 7 double-page illustrations 1 single-page illustration, 10 single pages of text; (vol. 3) 13 leaves: 1 single-page illustration, 7 double-page illustrations, 1 single-page illustration, 10 single pages of text. Inscribed and signed. In fabric-covered chitsu case.
- Production date
- 1803 (ca.)
Height: 208 millimetres (Vol 1 closed)
Height: 207 millimetres (Vol 2 closed)
Height: 209 millimetres (Vol 3 closed)
Width: 151 millimetres (Vol 1 closed)
Width: 282 millimetres (Vol 1 open)
Width: 153 centimetres (Vol 2 closed)
Width: 275 millimetres (Vol 2 open)
Width: 152 millimetres (Vol 3 closed)
Width: 275 millimetres (Vol 3 open)
- Curator's comments
It was apparently Kasukawa Shunsho- (d. 1792), possibly in collaboration with Utamaro, who in his erotic black-and-white book Ehon kaname-ishi of 1782 who first came up with the idea to show a half-length picture of a beautiful woman in the first single-page illustration of a volume, and then to match this in the final single-page illustration with a close-up of the genitals. This was further developed by Utamaro and Shunsho- ’s pupil Katsukawa Shuncho- in Ehon hime hajime (Picture Book: First-Time Princesses) of 1790, where it was linked to the popular pseudo-science of ‘physiognomy’. In this late book by Utamaro, a masterpiece among his erotica, the faces and genitals in each of the three volumes are memorably presented in even larger close-up. The compositions are so skilfully drawn and artfully cropped within the page that both kinds of ‘portrait’ seem equally filled with life. Viewers of Utamaro’s ‘large-head pictures’ (o - kubi-e) who also knew his erotica must surely have mentally connected the two.
In one endearing and daring composition, a geisha (female entertainer) straddles her lover, plucking the shamisen and singing as they make love. He lies back, stifling a yawn, and engages her in banter. Surrounding their pillows is a folding screen painted with an ink landscape in Chinese style. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. Some thirty or so erotic books and albums are recorded by Utamaro, compared to his twenty or so non-erotic titles, and he is a master practitioner of the shunga genre. Some works actually include the artist and members of his circle as fictional protagonists. Indeed, the preface of this book is playfully written as if by Utamaro’s wife – we do not know for sure that he was married – and implies that she has had to finish the work because he has bunked off on a jaunt: ‘… when a couple is as extraordinarily loving as we are, then there is no better conjunction of the male and female principles than for the wife to add the colouring to drawings done by the husband’. She admits to being like the ‘laughing drinker’ of the title. Each of the three volumes begins with a female ‘large-head picture’ (o - kubi-e) reminiscent of Utamaro’s single-sheet prints and ends with complementary close-ups of female and male genitals, and lovers’ tightly clasped hands (Shunga, cat. 52). The book was bequeathed to the British Museum with other shunga by Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879–1972), at one time president of the Royal Academy, together with a letter from him tracing the provenance back through two other British painters, ultimately to the American artist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Recent research has revealed that many Western artists since the late nineteenth century, invariably men, have been fascinated and inspired by Japanese shunga. [TC]
Asano and Clark 1995
Perhaps the last of Utamaro's colour-printed erotic-books, famous for the preface in which his (?fictive) wife addresses the publisher by means of a "letter" written during Utamaro's absence. ‘Warai jogo’ of the title refers to someone who habitually laughs when drunk. The dating of the work to c. 1803 is based on a reference to the seventh part of the popular historical novel ‘Ehon Taiko-ki’, which was published in Osaka in the sixth month, 1802. ‘Ehon Taiko-ki’ was then banned in the fifth month, 1804, whereafter a new edition of the ‘Ehon warai jogo’ was issued deleting all references to it. Hayashi 1990, pp. 177-179 argues that the present colour edition of ‘Ehon warai jogo’ was published in the New Year, 1803, with an alternative monochrome edition printed at the same time from separately cut blocks. In this monochrome edition the hair of each figure is printed from an additional black block not used in the colour edition. At least two poorly recut editions of the work are known, thought to date from around the time of Utamaro's death in 1806, attesting to its strong popularity.
Each volume opens with a single-page bust-portrait and ends with a close-up view of genitalia. These are inscribed as follows: (volume one) "A virgin seeks to hide her laugh" (Arabachi wa motomete warai o shinobu), "Hands [clasped] in agreement" (Shochi no te); (volume two) "As the picture shows, the wife's face..." (Nyobo wa zu no gotoku membu...), "The inner hand" (Oku no te); (volume three) "Courtesans are ranked according to their facial appearance" (Keisei wa menso ni kurai o tsukuru), "The permissive hand" (Yurushi no te).
The preface [is] written with the customary epistolary phrases and even reproducing the handwriting such as a woman might typically use in a letter […].
John Singer Sargent.
P. Wilson Steer.
‘Kokusho somokuroku’「 国書総目録」, vol. 1, Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 1963-72, pl. 504.
Anon. Shunga geijutsu sensho (Picture Book Series of the Shunga), vol. 2: Ehon warai jogo (The Merry Drinkers). USA, Seiseido, 1980.
Hayashi, Yoshikazu 林美一, ‘Edo makura-eshi shusei: Utamaro sei’「 江戸枕絵師集成 喜多川歌麿 正」,Tokyo, Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1990, 177-181.
[Main text translated in Japanese below / 以下上記本文日本語訳]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 10 Oct-2008 28 Jan, London, Barbican Gallery, 'Seduced: Art and Sex' (vols. 2 & 3)
2010 22 Sep-14 Nov, Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 'Kitagawa Utamaro' (vols 1,2 & 3)
2011 14 Feb-13 Jun, London, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Acquisition date
- Registration number