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Ehon hitachiobi [trans.: Picture Book: Divining - UTAMARO - 1795. 
21 double-page & 3 full-page woodcuts, all in black & white. 14; 13; 13 folding leaves. Three vols. 8vo (215 x 156 mm.), orig. hand-painted decorative wrappers (a little rubbed & worn, lower margins a little soiled), orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. [Japan]: 1795. First edition of this very rare shunga, created during the final glory years of Utamaro Kitagawa's career; WorldCat locates no original edition. This is one of the rarest of Utamaro's erotic works and is a fine set in fresh condition with excellent impressions of the woodcuts. In the beginning of each volume there is a different finely wood-engraved portrait of a woman; they demonstrate the mastery of Utamaro's art and are very much in the bijin-e tradition for which Utamaro is so celebrated. They are followed by three sets of seven double-page scenes of intense sexual intimacy. In the fourth double-page scene in the first volume, we see a fan held by the female lover. Utamaro has discretely wood-engraved his signature on the upper side of the fan. Following each set of the double-page scenes, there is text. Many of Utamaro's closest friends are portrayed. Hayashi (see below), writes that this book represents the highest wood-carving technique of the time. Portrayals of the hair of the women is very delicately wood-engraved; the block-cutters have skillfully reproduced the impressive range of Utamaro's brush-drawn lines. "In the shunga of Utamaro's last years, just as the eighteenth century was giving way to the nineteenth, it is already possible to discern new forms of expression which presage developments in ukiyo-e shunga of the late Edo period. Specifically, the taste developed for extreme enlargement and exaggeration of the sex organs, and for couplings of bodies that were unnatural - what could be described as an expressionistic tendency. Utamaro was a giant of late Edo-period ukiyo-e, endowed with considerable foresight, an artist who not only created an innovative style in his images of beautiful women, but who also paved the way for a new period of shunga."-Kobayashi Tadashi, "The Essence of Ukiyo-e Shunga" in Clark et al., Shunga. Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, p. 157. Fine set and extremely rare. The final three leaves of Vol. III have a faint dampstain. ? Clark et al., Shunga. Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, p. 407. Yoshikazu Hayashi, Edo Enpon shusei [trans.: Comprehensive Collection of Shunga Books in the Edo Era], Vol. 6 (2011), pp. 24, 38, 61, 64, 88, 90, 131, 161-68, 173, 182, & 183 and Vol. 7 (2012), pp. 96, 103, 110, 135, 168, 185, 187, 189, 217-57, & 278.
[Bookseller: Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller, Inc.]
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