A section of an image from Manpuku Wagojin

In the basement section of Hokusai Exposed, you are invited to explore the sensual and humorous world of shunga, literally “spring pictures”. Many of the artists today most readily associated with ukiyo-e (“floating world”) art, including Hokusai, also produced shunga. The genre reached its apex in the Edo period, and appears to have been “consumed” by all classes of society, and both men and women alike.

Shunga-2Manpuku Wagojin (The Gods of Intercourse), re-creates of which are showcased at Hokusai Exposed, is an unusual example of the shunga genre in a number of ways. Firstly, Hokusai both wrote and illustrated the book, which has a total of three volumes. This is in contrast to the norm; artists would not usually be involved in writing the prose.

Secondly, shunga images were most often single and stand-alone, and in many cases the text accompanying the image would not be directly related to the picture content. In Manpuku Wagojin, however, Hokusai develops a single continuous story over three volumes, and the images are depictions of that story. The story itself is that of two women, one from a rich family and the other from a poor family, who become embroiled in a sensual world of pleasure-seeking.

Few shunga have been authenticated as being the work of Hokusai, and Manpuku Wagojin, which dates to 1821, appears to have been his last; it was perhaps his Swan song to the genre. Hokusai is also the artist responsible for the notorious Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a re-create of which is also on display at Hokusai Exposed. This print was part of Kinoe no Komatsu, another volume of shunga by Hokusai, published in 1814. The shocking union between woman and octopus was not original to Hokusai, but rather a theme that had appeared before in shunga. It was this Hokusai print, however, which became best known outside of Japan; it was particularly inspiring to a number of artists in Europe from the end of the 19th century onwards. Picasso, for example, is known to have been a collector of shunga and to have created his own version of the print.

The shunga at Hokusai Exposed have been subject to the same process of re-create as the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji showcased in the upstairs gallery. A set of volumes belonging to Mitsuru Uragami, an avid collector of Hokusai prints, was chosen as the data upon which the re-creates would be based, and the painstaking process of histogram analysis and remastering begun. The resulting re-creates are intended to show the prints as they would have appeared to eager Edo consumers; in these versions, it is the colour as well as the content which is vivid and bold. Don’t miss this chance to see this series of exquisite depictions of sexual union between men and women, shown in a lantern-lit gallery to enhance the intimacy of the viewing experience.

*Please note that this section of the exhibition is only open to visitors aged 18 years and over.