19th Century Japanese Shunga Hand-Scroll, Katsukawa School.




Unknown artist

Meiji era, circa 1880

Hand-scroll mounted with 12 paintings

Ink, pigment and gofun on silk


Each image measures H. 23.2 cm x W. 34.4 cm (9.15” x 13.5”)

The hand-scroll measures H. 28 cm x W. 540 cm (11” x 212”)

Price: USD 10,500

A set of 12 late 19th century Japanese Shunga paintings mounted as a hand-scroll. Two of the leaves bear the signature and seal ‘Setsuzan’, although we are unable to confirm the identity of the artist using this art name. 6 of the 12 images are taken almost directly from Katsukawa Shuncho’s late 18th century woodblock series, ‘Erotic Pictures for the Twelve Months’. The poses of the protagonists and the lines of their robes are virtually identical. Elements of the backgrounds and the patterns of the kimono have been changed; the text has been removed and replaced with imagery. And this imagery references the original texts and seasons. For example, the eighth painting on this hand-scroll copies a very well known Shuncho woodblock print. There the text tells the story that the couple are enjoying an autumn moon viewing. In the present version the ladies’ undergarment is patterned with rabbits, which is an allusion to the moon and also sexuality. In the 9th painting of the present series, the text has been replaced with a pair of sliding door paintings. The painting shows an idyllic landscape which echoes with themes of solitude and quietude. The text describes a woman who has seduced a young man at the kabuki theatre. She has taken him to an adjacent teahouse during the half-time interval. The young man is worried that they will be heard downstairs, the woman is unconcerned.

In the present painted hand-scroll the colors and pigments are far richer than those used for Shuncho’s original woodblock prints. The scrolls’ vivid palette and lavish materials suggests that this work was made under special order. Such elaborately executed hand-scrolls often found at least nominal justification as accoutrements for a bride’s trousseau. The Katsukawa school of Ukiyo-e artists was particularly popular in the last decades of the 18th century. It’s influence had waned by the mid 19th century. Some 50 artists are known to have been directly connected with and trained by the school. Katsukawa Shuncho, who’s work is the direct inspiration for this set of 12 paintings, drew inspiration for his work from the Ukiyo-e artist Torii Kiyonaga. The painter of this set of paintings, using the name Setsuzan, remains a mystery. He was perhaps a minor artist associated with the very final stages of the Katsukawa school, or more likely an unaffiliated professional painter working on a specific commission during the Meiji period.

The paintings have recently been restored and remounted in Kyoto utilizing traditional techniques and craftsmen. The gold-flecked background paper and the silk front-piece are from the original hand-scroll and have been cleaned and re-used.