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One of the Eight Views of the Ryukyu Islands by Katsushika Hokusai, estimated at $150,000-$200,000 at Heritage.

Nelkin collection of Japanese woodblock prints bows at Heritage June 27

DALLAS — Heritage Auctions is selling the Nelkin collection of Japanese woodblock prints on Thursday, June 27. Ruth Nelkin of Stamford, Connecticut and New York City collected across a wide variety of different disciplines, from Fabergé to French art glass. However, her primary passion was for ukiyo-e, the Japanese artform that has captivated Western eyes since the late 19th century.

A retired stockbroker whose late husband Harold Nelkin worked in investment banking, Ruth Nelkin was seldom outbid at auction. “Mrs Nelkin always sat in front”, recalled specialist consultant Sachiko Hori. “I doubt she ever shook her head to indicate ‘no’ to the auctioneer. That was her determined way, resulting in this magnificent collection with depth and variety.”

As part of its series of Nelkin sales, Heritage’s June 27 event features nearly 250 prints by masters of the form from the 18th to the 20th century. Most of the items have not been seen on the market in more than 30 years, with all proceeds from the sale going to the Nelkin family’s chosen charities.

The auction contains 29 lots credited to the most celebrated of the Japanese printmakers: the Edo period artist Katsushika Hokusai. The top lot overall is a complete 1832 series of his Eight Views of the Ryukyu Islands, created in anticipation of the arrival of a tribute mission from the semi-autonomous Ryukyu kingdom, in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) in November 1832. Hokusai had never visited the remote islands, so instead based his compositions and titles on illustrations from the book Ryukyu kokushiryuaku, published in 1757, adding in fictional elements for the Japanese audience that included exotic plants and snow-peaked Fuji-like mountains. The set is estimated at $150,000-$200,000.

Among the best-known Japanese woodblock prints from the early 20th century shin-hanga (new prints) movement is Kawase Hasui’s Shiba Zojoji, depicting the Zojo-ji Temple in Shiba shrouded in winter snow. From the 1925 series Twenty Views of Tokyo, published by Watanabe Shozaburo, the key figure in the shin-hanga movement, it is estimated at $15,000-$20,000.

Six shin-hanga compositions by Takahashi Hiroaki (aka Shotei) include the image used on the cover of the auction’s catalog: the female nude titled Abalone Diver (Awabi tori) from 1931. Based on the 1913 painting Comb by Teramatsu Kunitaro, this is one of a series of Takahashi prints of beauties and cats published between 1929 and 1932, the blocks for which were destroyed during the Second World War. This example has an estimate of $30,000-$35,000.

The six works in Yoshida Hiroshi’s series The Island Sea (Seto Naikai shu), from 1926, depict the same sailboat and its reflection at different times of the day and in different atmospheric conditions (a complete set is estimated at $30,000-$35,000), while among the 14 prints on offer by his contemporary Ito Shinsui is the 1917 work Passing Rain, estimated at $25,000-$30,000.