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Kuniyoshi Utagawa, ‘The actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the Ghost of Asakura Togo,’ estimated at $2,000-$3,000

Collection of macabre Japanese prints showcased at Turner, May 20

Kuniyoshi Utagawa, ‘The actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the Ghost of Asakura Togo,’ estimated at $2,000-$3,000
Kuniyoshi Utagawa, ‘The actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the Ghost of Asakura Togo,’ estimated at $2,000-$3,000

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO – Turner Auctions + Appraisals will present Ghosts, Demons and Monsters, the Collection of Japanese Prints from the Estate of Edward S. Stephenson on Saturday, May 20. With a focus on the supernatural, this online auction features more than 110 Japanese woodblock prints collected in post-war Japan by an award-winning Hollywood production designer. Never exhibited before, these works are by famed 19th- and early-20th-century woodblock artists, including Yoshitoshi, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitsuya, Kunisada, Kunichika, Yoshiku, Toyohara, and others. Two 19th-century Japanese watercolors complete the sale. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

About Edward S. Stephenson and His Collection

Born in Iowa, Edward S. Stephenson (1917-2011) moved with his family around the age of six to Glendale, in Southern California. Inspired by early motion pictures, young Edward decided at age 11 he wanted to pursue theater and production design. After high school, he attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of the Theater and after graduation began working in theatrical design.

Like many other young men, his career was interrupted by World War II. Serving in the U.S. Air Force, he was stationed in Guam, Texas, and, for seven years, in Japan. He was appointed civilian director of entertainment and music for the commander in chief, Far East and supreme commander, Allied Powers; in this role, he headed the military’s post-occupation entertainment services, when entertainment for GIs was said to be a “necessary supplement to the basic needs of food and shelter.” Much of his time was spent at the Tokyo Takarazuka Revue building, later renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater for the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who was killed in Okinawa. Known as the “Radio City Music Hall of the East,” this was the hub for American-style entertainment in Japan and indeed all of Asia. It was here that Stephenson plied his trade of production and theater design, including a performance of The Mikado that was attended by the Japanese royal family.

Toyohara Kunichika, ‘The Actors Onoe Kikugoro V and Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the Roles of Okiku's ghost and Aoyama Tessan, Performing in the Play The Dish Mansion at Banshu,’ estimated at $1,000-$2,000
Toyohara Kunichika, ‘The Actors Onoe Kikugoro V and Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the Roles of Okiku’s ghost and Aoyama Tessan, Performing in the Play The Dish Mansion at Banshu,’ estimated at $1,000-$2,000

From his time in Japan, he sent the second-largest shipment of Japanese artifacts back to the U.S.; the largest was sent to Gump’s, the renowned retailer in San Francisco.

Upon his return to Los Angeles, Stephenson began working in production design in live television, a career that spanned five decades and numerous accolades. He received three Primetime Emmy Awards for production design and/or art direction for An Evening with Fred Astaire, for The Andy Williams Show and for Soap. With Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, he worked on numerous shows, including Maude, Sanford & Son, Good Times and the pilot for All in the Family. He also worked with Witt-Thomas-Harris on Golden Girls, Empty Nest and Blossom. In 1978, he found time to launch Hollywood Studio Gallery, the entertainment industry’s leading prop house for art and wall decor, with 50,000 pieces available for rent. Today the company is owned and run by Stephenson’s daughter, Tara Stephenson-Fong, herself a noted set decorator and winner of an Art Directors Guild (ADG) award, along with numerous Emmy and ADG nominations. Edward Stephenson retired in 1994 and died in 2011.

Kuniyoshi Utagawa, ‘Asakusa Okuyama ikiningyo (Life-sized dolls exhibited at Asakusa Okuyama),’ estimated at $600-$800
Kuniyoshi Utagawa, ‘Asakusa Okuyama ikiningyo (Life-sized dolls exhibited at Asakusa Okuyama),’ estimated at $600-$800

While he was a collector during his entire adult life, Stephenson seems to have been first bitten by the bug when he was in Japan after the war; trading, for example, a carton of cigarettes for a samurai sword. The intriguing woodblock prints he collected have a dramatic and powerful visual focus – on ghosts, demons and monsters, whose myths and legends pervade Japanese culture. Several prints in the sale include the Bakeneko, the fearsome cat monster “that inspires fear and respect through legends, art and Japanese folklore.”

According to Tara, her father always had a fascination with the occult, the macabre and the unexplained, so his attraction to these supernatural woodblock prints is not surprising. Because he felt the prints were precious, he kept them in storage, not on display. He also collected European military armor, which will be the subject of a future sale at Turner Auctions + Appraisals. Tara said she hopes the artworks “find a good home with good people.” Those passionate about supernatural Japanese prints are sure to find their spirits lifted.

Highlights from the May 20 sale include:

A circa-1892 print series by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) showing the actors Onoe Kikugoro V and Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the roles of Okiku’s ghost and Aoyama Tessan, performing in the play The Dish Mansion at Banshu. The woodblock vertical triptych measures 28 by 9-1/4in and has some slight oxidation. It is estimated at $1,000-$2,000.

Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi, ‘Taira no Kiyomori and skulls in snow,’ estimated at $600-$800

Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi, ‘Taira no Kiyomori and skulls in snow,’ estimated at $600-$800

An 1882 triptych by Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), Taira no Kiyomori and skulls in snow, from the series Shinyo Rokaisen. The print measures 14 by 9in and it is trimmed, thinning, and stained with light fading. Its estimate is $600-$800.

Another notable woodblock print by Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi that appears in the sale is The new forms of the thirty-six ghosts, from 1890. The woodblock print is in good condition and measures 14-1/2 by 9-1/2in. It has an estimate of $400-$600.

Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi, ‘The new forms of the thirty-six ghosts,’ estimated at $400-$600

Tsukioka Kinzaburo Yoshitoshi, ‘The new forms of the thirty-six ghosts,’ estimated at $400-$600

The first of two highlights credited to Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797/98-1861) is the circa-1854-1857 diptych Asakusa Okuyama ikiningyo (Life-sized dolls exhibited at Asakusa Okuyama). The woodblock is an overall good example of the print, it measures 15 by 10-1/4in. and it is estimated at $600-$800. The second is a circa-1851 woodblock depicting The actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the Ghost of Asakura Togo. Estimated at $2,000-$3,000, the woodblock print measures 14-3/4 by 10-1/4in. and is in overall good condition, with light fading.

Yoshiku Utagawa, ‘Ghost of Kohada, One Hundred Tales,’ estimated at $300-$500

Yoshiku Utagawa, ‘Ghost of Kohada, One Hundred Tales,’ estimated at $300-$500

Completing the highlights is an 1890 Yoshiku Utagawa (1833-1904) woodblock print titled Ghost of Kohada, One Hundred Tales. Measuring 10 by 7-1/2 in, it sports good color and condition and has an estimate of $300-$500.

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