Sekino Jun'ichiro (Japanese, 1915-1988), The Puppeteer Kiritake Monjuro with the Puppet Jihei (right) and Other Puppeteers with Osui, the daughter of Jihei (center) and Koharu (left), oversize color woodblock, ca. 1960s. “Eprewoe D’Arteste” (meaning Artist’s Proof) handwritten in pencil on lower left margin and signed in pencil by the artist on the lower right margin. Signature stamped in black inside the image beneath the artist’s red seal. Custom double matted and framed. Size: image measures 19.5" L x 25.25" W (49.5 cm x 64.1 cm); 30.75" L x 36.25" W (78.1 cm x 92.1 cm) with custom double mat and gilded frame
Bunraku is a Japanese traditional form of puppet theater. Puppeteers used half-size doll-puppets to chant a dramatic narrative known as joruri with musical accompaniment on a samisen (three stringed lute). The term Bunraku comes from the name of a puppeteer troupe founded by Uemura Bunrakuken in the early 19th century. Several puppeteers are needed to operate each puppet. Traditionally, the primary handler dons 18th century attire and operates the puppet’s head and right hand – moving eyes, eyebrows, lips, as well as fingers. A pair of assistants, dressed in black in order to blend into the background and not detract from the puppets, operate the left hand, legs, and feet (or kimonos if the puppets are female as we see in this composition). Extensive training is necessary in order to attain synchronized motion and lifelike gestures and emotions during the performance. UNESCO identified Bunraku as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.
A prolific and versatile artist, Sekino is considered one of the preeminent modern Japanese woodblock printmakers of the 20th century. a pioneer of the early 20th century Japanese printmaking movement known as sosaku hanga (creative prints), so named because artists affiliated with this movement, influenced by artists from the West, who were solely responsible for all aspects of the creation of their prints (unlike the premodern Japanese Ukiyo-e printmakers such as Hokusai or Hiroshige, who were simply the prints' designers working in collaboration with highly specialized craftsmen who cut and printed the blocks). Sekino first began making woodblock prints, oil paintings, and etchings when a teenager living in his hometown in northern Japan. Soon after winning a prestigious prize at a government-sponsored national juried exhibition (Bunten) in 1936, he moved to Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan's modern art world, to further his studies with the giant of the sosaku hanga movement, Onchi Koshiro (1891–1955). Like other Japanese sosaku hanga artists, his modernist approach to printmaking only found international acclaim soon after World War Two, when he had his first solo exhibitions in Tokyo and participated in prestigious international exhibitions in Europe, and North and South America. He was also one of the eminent contemporary Japanese artists invited to tour and exhibit in the United States in 1958 by the Rockefeller Foundation. His art was then collected by major museums worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art NY and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Sekino returned to the US in 1963 to teach printmaking at Oregon State University and after his return to Japan, settled in Kobe, where he taught at Kobe University.
Highly revered as one of the most influential and accomplished woodblock print masters of the 20th century, Sekino is known for his beautiful portraits, as well as his landscapes and semi-abstract compositions. His work was influenced by Japanese masters such as Sharaku and European masters like Albrecht Durer. Sekino Junichiro’s works have been collected by many esteemed museums. See, for example, this same print at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (accession number 55.456 - http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-puppeteer-kiritake-monj%C3%BBr%C3%B4-with-the-puppet-jihei-right-and-other-puppeteers-with-osui-the-daughter-of-jihei-center-and-koharu-left-257773) and “The Puppeteer Bungoro in the Dressing Room” (1947) (accession number 1951.241) at the Art Institute Chicago (http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/75585?search_no=1&index=5).
Oliver Statler. Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956.
Helen Merritt. Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early Years. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
Alicia Volk. Made in Japan: The Postwar Creative Print Movement, 1945-1970. Seattle: University of Washington Press and Milwaukee Art Museum, 2005.
Provenance: private Lakewood, Colorado, USA collection, acquired by descent; The owner’s father purchased this piece directly from the artist Sekino Junichiro when he was a captain in the Air Force stationed in Misawa, Japan during the 1960s. As stated, this piece is an artist’s proof.
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