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Sugimura Jihei (杉村治平)

 

Kaigetsudo Ando courtesanSugimura Jihei (杉村治平), active circa 1681-1703, was an outstanding early ukiyo-e artist who specialized in shunga ("spring pictures" or explicit erotica: 春画). He also used the (art pseudonym: 號) Masataka (高). Sugimura might have been a cousin of one of the celebrated "Forty-seven Rônin," and so he was possibly of samurai rank, a fact that emerged during the historical trial of the avenging rônin (masterless samurai: 浪人) in 1703.

There appear to be no confirmed surviving paintings by Sugimura. Today, he is known principally from a small number of single-sheet compositions and six signed and dated albums that provide clues for identifying his working period. It is in these formats rather than in ehon (woodblock-printed illustrated books: 絵本) that evidence of Sugimura's skill and imagination can best be found. Clothing designs often play a key role in the success of his compositions, frequently drawn with a powerful rhythmic vigor. His figures tend to be large within a given pictorial space, and many are animated in their forms and gestures. Quite a number of prints have little or no background details, while others provide settings for narrative aspects of design. As indicated above, some of his prints include elements of mitate (metaphorical comparisons) or allusions to literary sources, which was unusual in ukiyo-e at the end of the seventeenth century. Sugimura's best large-format works are among the finest in early ukiyo-e, and his achievements in shunga design outshine those of Hishikawa Moronobu in their expression of erotic desire.

Sugimura was likely an independent follower of Hishikawa Moronobu. In fact, much of Sugimura's work was once attributed to Moronobu or to one of his other followers. In 1926, however, the art historian Shibui Kiyoshi (渋井,清 1899-1992), in his two-volume Genroku kohanga shûei (元祿古版畫集英 see complete ref. below), recognized that many unsigned prints had hidden Sugimura signatures incorporated in the drawing of the clothing. In some instances, the character for Mura (村) was inserted into the composition or as part of a mon (crest: 紋); at other times, the name Jihei (治平) could be found placed inconspicuously within the design (there are several examples of these hidden signatures on this web page).

The print shown above right, from the late 1680s, is one of the earliest signed ukiyo-e woodcuts in the kakemono-e (hanging scroll picture: 掛物絵) format; here, the size is 572 x 283 mm. The signature "Sugimura" (杉村) is given in the round crests of the collar on the outer kimono. The design is heavily hand-painted, obscuring much of the printed outlines, which at one time gave rise to speculation that it was a painting. However, by 1970, examination under a stereomicroscope verified that at least some of the lines were printed. Moreover, another impression was later found in an Italian collection. The print depicts a young beauty adorned in elaborate kimono as she strolls along a street in Edo. Besides the various floral motifs, including autumn susuki (pampas grass: 薄), kiku (chrysanthemums: 菊), and hagi (bush clover: 萩), her furisode (long or "swinging" sleeves: 振袖) are decorated with two related scenes from Chapter 12 of the Ise monogatari (Tale of Ise: 伊勢物語), a tenth-century collection of around 143 very brief lyrical episodes serving as fictional headnotes to 209 poems. Here, the story involves a man who kidnaps a young woman and conceals her among the tall grasses of Musashino (The Musashi Field: 武蔵野) while they are being chased by the agents of the provincial governor. When the pursuers are about to ignite the grasses to flush out the kidnapper, the woman recites a poignant poem: Musashino wa / kyô wa na yaki so / wakakusa no / tsuma mo komoreri / ware mo komoreri ("Please do not burn the fresh grass of Musashino. Both he and I are hidden within." 武蔵野は今日はな燒きそ若草のつまもこもれり我もこもれり). In subsequent adaptations in popular literature and art, the kidnapper and victim were turned into star-crossed lovers. It was this alternate, romanticized version that would have resonated with the contemporary viewer of Sugimura's kakemono-e. Moreover, this sort of mitate (analogue or metaphorical comparison: 見立) — matching up the contemporary with the classical past, or the so-called vulgar with the refined (zoku, 俗 and ga 雅) — would have pleased the eighteenth-century observer.

Kaigetsudo Ando courtesan in windSugimura's earliest known signed work was the Ukiyo raku-asobi (Easy pleasures of the floating world:浮世らくおそび), a shunga ehon from 1681. He is first mentioned, it seems, in a 1689 directory of Edo artists and artisans titled Edo zukan kômoku (江戸図鑑綱目) by the cartographer, popular-fiction writer, print artist and illustrator (Moronobu pupil) Ishikawa Tomonobu (石川流宣 c. 1661-1721, also read as Ryûsen 流宣), where Sugimura is listed with his name and address as "Woodblock artist, Sugimura Jihei Masataka, Tori-Aburachô." In 1841, the leading author of gesaku (popular illustrated fiction: 戯作) Ryûtei Tanehiko (柳亭種彦 1783-1842) produced a woodblock-printed book titled Yôshabako ("Box of throwaway scraps": 用捨箱) in which he credits Sugimura as the illustrator of two books that are today no longer extant.

The print on the left, a hand-colored kakemono-e (588 x 322 mm) from the early 1680s, depicts the poetess Koshikibu no Naishi (小式部内侍 c. 999-1025) at a Tenmangû Shrine (天満宮). One of her poems was included in the famous anthology Hyakkunin isshu (100 poems by 100 poets: 百人一首), compiled in the 1230s with the intention to highlight memorable poems from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries. She was the daughter of the poet Izumi Shikibu (和泉式部, b. 976?) who is counted among the Chûko sanjurokkasen (Thirty-six immortal medieval poets: 中古三十六歌仙), and Tachibana no Michisada (橘道貞 died 1016), the governor of Mutsu. Along with her mother, Koshikibu served the Empress Shôshi (藤原彰子 988-1074). She was the subject of a substantial number of ukiyo-e designs by various artists until nearly the end of the nineteenth century, with many employing mitate. Sugimura's design is surprisingly fluid, graceful, and expressive for such an early ukiyo-e print. The sense of movement is compelling and nearly dancelike in its rendering. This print, which is the only known impression, has been designated a jûyô bijutsu hin (Important art object: 重要美術品) by the Japanese government, whose aim is to identify certain works of significant historical and cultural importance, and to register the patrimony of such art objects and prevent their unrestricted international sale.

In the hand-colored ôban print below, a less risqué frontispiece to an untitled shunga series, two lovers embrace while positioned on padded winter kimono laid out as if it were a blanket. Meanwhile, an older woman is sneaking a peak from behind a sliding door. This sort of voyeuristic element was common in ukiyo-e and seemed to be a favorite of Sugimura's, given the number of times he used it in his designs. The gesture of the young woman's head and hand pressing against her lover's shoulder, along with his hands wrapped around her waist, signal a sensitive rendering of intimacy that is a hallmark of Sugimura's shunga. In fact, if this sumizuri-e (monochrome carbon-black print: 墨摺絵) were not hand-colored, the two figures of the lovers would have merged into an even more intensified pairing of forms. The floral decoration of the sliding paper-covered doors — chrysanthemums linked with swirling curves — heighten the visual intensity of the design in a way appropriate to the subject. Prints from this series are decorated, as here, with quarter-cut chrysanthemums in the four corners of the frames, a design element he likely picked up from Hishikawa Morunobu.

Sugimura Jihei lovers and voyeur
Sugimura Jihei: Lovers observed by an older woman, from an untitled erotic series
Woodblock print, horizontal ôban sumizuri-e with hand-coloring, c. mid-1680s

Complete picture albums of erotic images typically contain 12 prints, with a non-explicit frontispiece. These introductory designs qualified as abuna-e ("risqué pictures": 危絵) — mildly suggestive images that invited the curious to explore deeper within the album's contents. The previous print is an example, and it is one that despite the prurient element, is surely an expressive portrayal of erotic affection. So, too, is the following design by Sugimura, a magnificent realization of erotic composition from corner to corner. Here the lovers share their desire for one other (emotional and physical), but they also yield some of the composition's graphic potency to the brilliant phoenix-patterned quilt. Their figures fill the pictorial space, occupying it along a slight diagonal, and from edge to edge. Opposing diagonals are introduced by the young samurai's long and short swords, the edge of the underlying yellow bedding, the swath of peach-colored textile at the middle top, and the hard bottom edge of the painted floor screen just below it. The lovers' tender kiss will, of course, escalate into full-blown sexual congress in the following album sheets. The subtle hand-coloring (not by Sugimura, it should be said) is remarkable, one of the finest examples known among all ukiyo-e prints of the period. Yet even without such enhancement, the design would be a memorable display of Sugimura's spirited imagination.

Sugimura Jihei: Lovers under a phoenix quilt, from an untitled series published by Hangiya Chôjirô
Woodblock print, horizontal ôban sumizuri-e with hand-coloring, c. mid-1680s

The following hand-colored design (a tan-e, or red-lead print: 丹絵 with added colors of yellow, green, and blue) appears to be the first in a set of 12 designs illustrating the tales of Yoshitsune, titled Jûnidan Yoshitsune tabi no nasake (The love affair of Yoshitsune, twelve acts: 十二段よしつねたびのなさけ). A large print (305 x 572 mm), iand others from the group were formerly attributed to Moronobu, but another print from the set includes the characters for "Sugi" and "Mura" worked into the kimono of an attendant in the composition. Probably from the mid-to-late 1680s, the design depicts Jôruri-gozen (Princess Jôruri: 浄瑠璃御前) seated behind a misu (bamboo blind: 御簾) near which Yoshitsune sits with his tiger-fur sword scabbard. According to the long inscription above, Yoshitsune was on his way to Ôshu when he stopped at the house of a wealthy gold merchant named Kichiji in Mikawa province. While there, Yoshitsune fell in love at first sight with Jôruri-gozen, Kichiji's only daughter. She returned his affections and became intimate with him that evening. Sadly, Yoshitsune had to continue his journey the next morning and so they were parted. This deisgn is quite different from Sugimura's typical large-figure compositions. Here, the eight small protagonists do not in themselves have much visual impact. Instead, they fulfill a narrative purpose.

Sugimura Jihei meeting of Yoshitsune and Joruri-gozen
Sugimura Jihei: Yoshitsune and Jôruri-gozen, from Jûnidan Yoshitsune tabi no nasake
Woodblock print, horizontal kakemono tan-e with hand-coloring (305 x 572 mm), c. mid-to-late 1680s

The horizontal large ôban (273 x 406 mm) design shown below from around the late 1680s depicts a seated man twisting his body to stretch out and clutch the robe of his lover as a kneeling maid shyly turns her gaze away. This print is considered one of the most expressive in Sugimura's oeuvre. The sense of urgency and desire is rendered most effectively, as the coquettish beauty lifts her sleeve in a conventional gesture of modesty. Even so, she seems certain to return his affections. The composition presents a bold, extended curve from the head of the woman, then downward along the contour of her kimono, and finally continuing in expressive unison by the lower part of the man's robe. Lane (see ref.) find this ""characteristic movement toward the outer margins of the print" to be a distinguishing sign of Sugimura's hand at work. This is also one of Sugimura's many prints in which there is barely any background detail. The print is a tan-e with red lead, malachite, and gofun (the latter, a calcium carbonate or "shell white" 胡粉, might be a later addition). The characters for Jihei (治平) are visible in reserve on the man's belt, on his lover's outer kimono is the name "Sugimura (杉村), and the round red seal (reading 極) of the German collector Hans Crzellitzer is stamped in the lower left corner.

Sugimura Jihei insistent lover
Sugimura Jihei: Lovers and a maid
Woodblock print, horizontal large ôban tan-e with hand-coloring (273 x 406 mm), c. late 1680s

One of the few ehon attributed to Sugimura is the Ikusa kado-ide no tawamure (Amusements of warriors on the eve of battle: 軍門出の戯), an erotic work from 1687. The conceit here was to depict imagined scenes of famous warriors from history or legend engaged in lovemaking shortly before battle. In the example shown below, however, Oguri Hangan (小栗判官) is shown in flagrante delicto with Terute no hime (照天姫) while a battle has already commenced. Oguri Hangan mono (Plays about Oguri Hangan: 小栗判官物) were popular on the puppet and kabuki stages, and illustrations of the legendary tale are found often in ukiyo-e single-sheet prints and illustrated books.

Sugimura Jihei amusements of warriors
Sugimura Jihei: Two-page design from Ikusa kado-ide no tawamure (軍門出の戯)
"Amusements of warriors on the eve of battle," c. 1687
Woodblock print, ehon with slight hand-coloring, pub. by Masuya Heiemon

In the following ôban album print (266 x 368 mm), a standing beauty leans over her lover, their forms and complex kimono designs nearly merging into a single mass. Such density of pattern shared between two figures is particularly unusual and perhaps more characteristic of Sugimura than it was of his great contemporary Hishikawa Moronobu. The motifs include an array of different circular mon or crests for the man's robes, while his lover's outer kimono is decorated with fan shapes and bands of mist. The young man is playing a tsuzumi (hand drum: 皷) while a voyeuristic young maid looks on. The poem written on the screen reads: Au made no omoi wa koto na kazu narade wakare (zo) koi no hajime narikeru (The things I thought before I met you are as nothing — it is parting that is the beginning of love). [translation in Link 1971, see ref. below] © 2020 by John Fiorillo

Sugimura Jihei lovers behind a screen
Sugimura Jihei: Lovers behind a screen watched by a maid
Woodblock print, horizontal ôban (266 x 368 mm), c. late 1680s

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Clark, Tim; Hockley, Allan; Morse, Anne Nishimura; and Virgin, Louise: The Dawn of the Floating World 1650-1765. Early Ukiyo-e Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2001, pp. 50, 94-97.
  • Clark, Tim, Gerstle, C. Andrew, Ishigami, Aki, and Yano, Akiko: Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2013, pp. 110-113, 126-131.
  • Gunsaulus, Helen: The Clarence Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints: The Primitives. (Vol. 1). Art Institute of Chicago, 1955, pp. 7, 19-22.
  • Hillier, Jack: The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby's Publications, 1987, Vol. 1, pp. 118-132.
  • Jenkins, Donald: Ukiyo-e Prints and Paintings - The Primitive Period, 1680-1745. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1971, pp. 17, 37-48.
  • Lane, Richard: Images from the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York, 1978, pp. 51-54, 331.
  • Link, Howard: Ukiyo-e Prints and Paintings: The Primitive Period 1680-1745. Art Institute of Chicago, 1971, pp. 37-48.
  • Link, Howard: Primitive Ukiyo-e from the James A. Michener Collection in the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1980, pp. 7-10.
  • Shibui, Kiyoshi: Genroku kohanga shûei, furoku kôshoku ukiyo-e hanga mokuroku (Original collection of Genroku-period prints, Catalog of primitive ukiyo-e erotic prints: 元祿古版畫集英 附錄好色浮世繪版畫目錄); Title on case: Estampes érotiques primitives du Japon. Tokyo: Kohanga Kenkyû Gakkai (古版畫硏究學會), 2 vols. 1926-28.
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