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Japanese Woodblock Music Book Attrib. Takehisa Yumeji

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Woodblock Prints: Pre 1920: Item # 1216543

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Brian Page Antiques
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Brighton, Sussex,
United Kingdom
Tel: 01273 622152

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A Rare Japanese Woodblock Printed Music Notebook. Attrib. to Takehisa Yumeji. Taisho Period 5 1/4 x 5 1/8 ins. (13.4 x 13 cms) This very unusual item comprises woodblock printed covers with some bronze metallic pigment and 56 pp. of pink and bluey- green leaves printed with pale musical staves. The book has never been used. Yumeji is now regarded as one of the most significant designers of the first part of the 20th. century and apart from his fine art paintings and prints he did an enormous amount of designs for book covers, envelopes, covers for printed music, magazine illustration etc. etc. However, the present item appears to be unrecorded. Although it does not bear any of his logos the style is unmistakably his. A number of his designs show a preoccupation with the history of Christianity in Japan as does the present design with his trademark languorous girl praying, with a crucifix round her wrists. In the background is a three-masted foreign ship which features in others of his designs. The open belfry and the spires in the background were probably derived from his travels in Europe, he is known to have visited Venice for instance. Many of his designs incorporated Western lettering but the three letters TOS defy interpretation however there is a precedent published in the Japanese art magazine, The Sun, issue 20 Autumn 1977. This issue is devoted to the work of Yumeji and on p. 47 is a drawing of a girl with the letters ASA at the bottom right in similar sans-serif letters. The reverse of the booklet is very enigmatic, showing as it does, a curtain to the left and part of a Western-style round table on which are placed a book and three playing cards. Whether or not the heart and four of spades have a hidden meaning perhaps only Mr. Yumeji could tell us! Another puzzling aspect of the item is that the ruled music paper has a British watermark. Because of the cropping of the paper to fit the watermark of a Brittania surmounted by a crown, different parts of the water mark occur on different sheets. The sheets are folded vertically and stitch sown the covers being attached to the contents by the pasting of the plain endpapers. Similar watermarks of Brittania were used by several different British paper makers of the 19th. century. The closest we could find is that of Thomas Sweetapple who worked at Catteshall Mill, Suffolk up to the 1860s when he became bankrupt. The mill continued working until the 1920s and possibly used the similar Brittania mark, although we can find no evidence of its continued use. Yumeji did many designs for the Japanese music publisher Senow and it would be interesting to know if any of the products of Senow were also printed on British paper. The item is something of a puzzle; given that it is a well made item and certainly not cheaply made, with the use of metallic printing on the covers and fine quality ruled and coloured paper contents one cannot imagine there was a great market for it. It seems unlikely it was made for export and how many Japanese would be competent to write music with Western notation on the improbably small staves? There are no publishers or artist's details in the design. Another refinement of quality is the red pigment applied to the edges of the paper leaves when they were tightly compressed. Could it have been a "dummy" or possibly made to order for a client? Yumeji's work has been intensively collected for some time, there are two museums in Japan devoted to his work, and the possibility of a previously unknown design by him surfacing is rather exciting. The condition is very good. There is some slight scuffing to the surface of the covers but no damage and no repairs. The contents are in perfect condition with no foxing.