Erotic Art of Japan: Everybody's Doing It

New York Asia Week
March 13 - 22, 2014

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Scholten Japanese Art is pleased to announce our upcoming gallery exhibition, Erotic Art of Japan: Everybody's Doing It an exhibition primarily of woodblock prints known as shunga (lit. 'spring pictures').

The exhibition title is not just a double-entendre but actually a triple-entendre. First, the obvious sexual innuendo; second, that ALL of the major and minor artists of the ukiyo-e (art of the floating world) genre designed shunga even though there was a time when scholars didn't want to believe that. Finally, there have been recent exhibitions on shunga at museums such as the Honolulu Museum of Art and the British Museum, which enjoyed an unprecedented amount of public attention. It would appear that shunga is having its moment and literally, everyone IS doing it.

Erotic Art of Japan

We have been waiting to offer these works for a long time—this exhibition is over fifteen years in the making. Mr. Scholten began purchasing Japanese erotic prints and books in the 1990s, recognizing an opportunity to acquire beautiful works, in great condition, by some of the most important artists of the genre. Shunga is, by its very nature, explicit and provoking; but in some cases this works as an advantage, things that are tucked away can also be preserved in stunningly good condition with nearly pristine color.

There will be nearly 50 remarkable works on view at the gallery completely maxing out our available wall space, and over 100 images on our website. The formats will include two complete sets of twelve sheets by Suzuki Harunobu (fl. ca. 1724-1770) and Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867); two orihon (folded albums) attributed to Harunobu and Isoda Koryusai (fl. ca. 1764-1789); and a complete set of three ehon (illustrated books) attributed to Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). Furthermore, numerous single sheets by the previous artists as well as other famous representatives of ukiyo-e, including Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), Katsukawa Shuncho (fl. ca. 1780-1795), Keisei Eisen (1790-1848), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1832), and several Utagawa school works from the 19th century. The exhibition will also include at least one painted hand scroll.

One of the most lovely prints in the exhibition is a composition by Harunobu from ca. 1768 depicting two lovers on an open verandah staring into each other's eyes. They are surrounded by small details such as a tobacco set, a padded lacquer pillow, and bright goldfish in a basin which is partially concealed by woven blinds. Blooming irises line a water's edge and a bell sways in the breeze—it must be a warm spring or early summer evening. The way the figures are seated but entwined, the tender way they lock eyes, the overall balance of composition and the beautiful color palette in remarkably fresh condition all contribute to why this print is one of the best in the exhibition.

Erotic Art of Japan

In contrast, leap forward nearly fifty years to Selections from the Brocade Quarter (E-awase Kinkaisho), a complete set of twelve prints by Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867) published around 1815. Aptly named, the 'Brocade Quarter' series depicts a variety of encounters, some between courtesans and customers; some are secret lovers; some are husband and wife; but all of the compositions are as much concerned with the sexual acts as they are with the stylization of decorative details. Eizan was well-known for his focus on clothing, patterns, colors and brocades. The designs in this series are no exception- they are a riot of color and lavishly produced with abundant use of expensive materials such as metallic pigments.

Scholten Japanese Art is located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, between 6th and 7th Avenues. For the duration of the exhibition, March 13 - 22nd, the gallery will have general open hours (no appointments needed), 11 - 5 pm.

We are pleased to be participating in the schedule of events organized by Asia Week New York including the open house weekend on Saturday, March 15th and Sunday, March 16th, 11 - 5 pm.

Asia Week New York


Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only

Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm preferably for no more than two individuals at a time.
Visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing at their discretion.

site last updated
September 22, 2022

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475