Yanagawa Shigenobu I

Shigenobu I (1787–1832) studied printmaking under Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), whose daughter he later married and who ultimately adopted him. Shigenobu’s works of shunga occasionally display influences by his teacher, such as in his delicate rendering of textiles and in the way he dramatically positioned his figures across the entire page and filled the empty space around them with dialogue. Throughout his career, Shigenobu I continued to experiment with new styles, and he liberally appropriated imagery from Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) and other contemporaries.

Shigenobu’s series Storm of the Willow (Yanagi no arashi, c. 1832) has been hailed as not only the artist’s finest work but as one of the most important examples in the genre of shunga. It deals with complex aspects of Japan’s sexual culture, including male-love (nanshoku), sexual assault, women’s civil rights, and the public perception of foreigners.

Most dramatically, it embodies the aesthetic of grotesquerie and challenges viewers with images of sexuality that are raw, unromantic, and at times, deeply disturbing. Through this series, Shigenobu I reminds us that although sex is an essential aspect of human existence, it is not always a beautiful or comfortable experience.

Six images from the Storm of the Willow series are displayed here; five others may be found elsewhere in this exhibition.