Pioneering the use of the vertical format, the woodblock views from each of the provinces of Japan were published in serialised form by Koshimuraya Heisuke from 1853-56.
The sale of Japanese works of art at Woolley & Wallis (25% buyer’s premium) on November 15 in Salisbury included a near complete set of prints bound as an album c.1858.
As well as the 69 of 70 prints, on the opening and last pages is a diptych depicting cranes in flight over crashing waves, also by Hiroshige. It is rare that albums such as this remain intact (most were broken up in the days when the sum of the parts was greater than the whole) but those that do now command a premium. The colours in particular, protected from the ravages of light, are remarkable.
This album came for sale from an English private collection where it had been since the 1980s. Guided at £30,000-50,000, it took £88,000.
Another album of Japanese woodblock prints sold well above expectations at Dreweatts (25% buyer’s premium) on November 10.
Probably mounted together between printed boards in the late 19th or early 20th century when western collecting reached its peak, it comprised mid to late 19th century images from a series of well-known artists including Kuniyoshi, Yoshitora and Sadahide arranged in triptych form.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s (1797-1861) fantastical Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre Conjured up by Princess Takiyasha (that can itself make £20,000-plus in good condition) was probably the best-known image.
All with trimmed margins, some insect damage, tears, and – most problematic – all pages glued back-to-back, it was guided at £3000-5000 but went on to bring £49,000.