Every month a member of our Society will show one of his or her favourite Japanese artworks. This month the first and favourite acquisition of SJA member and art collector Annechien Bertheux:
My favourite Japanese work of art is this triptych by the artist Kunichika of the kabuki actor Nakamura Shikan IV in the role of the boatsman Matsuemon with an oar on his back, on the lookout for his enemies in a large pine tree.
Until 2005 I had no interest in and only a vague knowledge of Japanese prints. A year earlier I had returned to the Netherlands after a long period of living abroad, and settled in Leiden. There I met a classmate from my high school in Enschede, where the two of us did our final exams in 1961 and we resumed our friendship. How inspiring it was when she and her husband showed me their beautiful collection of Japanese woodblock prints, mainly of kabuki actors. I was so impressed by the interesting stories behind those beautiful prints, that I immediately decided to become a member of the Society for Japanese Art.
In May 2005 I went to a sales exhibition. It was wonderful to meet other collectors, but all of a sudden my attention was caught by a triptych of a person in a pine tree. Spread over three sheets, daring colours, an intriguing subject. I learned from my friend that the actor played the role of boatsman Matsuemon, in the play: ‘The Secret Art of Rowing Backwards’. This was a special and secret way of reverse rowing that made ships very manoeuvrable. Matsuemon was pictured, with his oar on his back, climbing a pine tree to escape his enemies who wanted to know his secret.
At that moment I decided to buy the triptych and to start collecting Japanese prints myself. Through the years the three of us visited numerous exhibitions and sales through Europe. I bought more beautiful and interesting prints, but this triptych of Matsuemon will always remain my favourite as a proof of the so inspiring renewed friendship.
Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900), Oban triptych, 3 x 36.0 x 25.0 cm, May 1883. Signature (on the right sheet) 応需 豊原 国周 筆 - Ôju Toyohara Kunichika hitsu - On special request drawn by Toyohara Kunichika.