Sugimura Jihei, unsigned
Lovers and Youth

Unsigned page from an unidentified shunga series ōban, yoko-e, 25.8 x 37.8 cm; beni-e

Sheet from an unidentified shunga series A couple in a stormy embrace is observed by a young boy who raises his head out from underneath the heavy covers. This print is a good example of the compositional style, typical for Jihei, in which everything is arranged around a central scene. Everything is subject to an iconographic strategy which allows nothing superfluous, thereby creating a richly structured surface closed unto itself.

Provenance: Otto Jaekel Collection Geyger, inv.no.16399 (KG p.26 / KGE p.22)

About sixty years ago a second, previously unrecognised artist was identified as a distinct personality in the extensive work of HISHIKAWA Moronobu, largely as a result of research by the Japanese scholar Kiyoshi Shibui. The artist’s name was SIGIMURA Jihei, Today it seems incredible that he was forgotten for almost two hundred years and that his work could not be distinguished from that of Moronobu, although the identifying characteristics of his pictures are obvious, and his signature can often be found on the robes of the figures – even though transformed into decoration and half hidden.
The greater part of his work is concerned with erotic scenes, which have always been favourite motifs of the ukiyo-e; sensual pleasure also seems to pervade works which do not obviously depict intimate situations. In Moronobu’s works depicting the act of love, the pictorial composition often develops out of the scenic conditions and allows, indeed demands, an emotional participation in the events shown. Sugimura, on the other hand, creates distance by means of a stricter division of the picture, often a radical triangular composition to which all the parts are subordinated right up to the margins of the page. The aesthetic appeal of his designs ensues from the tension and rhythm of the lines and the unerringly decisive arrangement of the deep black areas. When the viewer is able to appreciate the more abstract beauty of Sugimura’S prints, an occasional loss in illustrative variety compared with Moronobu does not disturb him as much. The energy of the composition declines in later works and, as a result, the effect becomes blurred and a descent into mere illustration is inevitable.
Virtually nothing is known about the artist’s life. All that remains are a few illustrations for novels and picture books, a series of erotic works in folders of ôban format, and some woodcuts in kakemono format.

A pair of lovers in stormy embrace are being watched by a young man who is hiding under a heavy blanket adorned with garland of small leaves. The courtesan’s robe is decorated with grapes and vine-leaves. In this leaf, Sugimura’s individual manner of composition is demonstrated in especially pure form. All parts of the picture emanate from a heavily emphasized point displaced somewhat away from the centre towards the edges, reducing the density of the composition without ever upsetting the equilibrium.
Faces, body shapes, decorative patterns are all subordinated to a conscious compositional strategy which excludes any superfluous elements. Everything which happens seems to serve the composition and becomes integrated into the richly structured space. There is not even a hint of illusionary spatial perspective. The dynamic action is intensified through the „billowing“ black area of a section of the man’s robe which flows away from the woman’s head. This energetic movement is broken by the calming pose of the youth.
No other impression of the leaf is known to date.