Shi Nai’an’s classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh (The Water Margin) is beautifully presented in a new Folio Society edition and illustrated with 141 images that capture the quests and battles.
Studies from Nature
Translated by John T. Carpenter
Limited to 500 numbered sets
Essays by John T. Carpenter, Alfred Haft and Alex Kerr
Essays by John T. Carpenter, Alfred Haft and Alex Kerr
Five hand-crafted books of exquisite Japanese art and poetry in facsimile for the first time
Two volumes of The Book of Crawling Creatures Japanese sewn binding
Gifts of the Ebb Tide and two volumes of The Book of Myriad Birds concertina binding
All volumes bound in Twist paper printed with original designs redrawn by Neil Gower
Printed paper labels with titles in English and in Japanese script
Illustrations and poems printed on Papermilk paper
100 pages in total
10¾˝ x 8¼˝
Limitation certificate wrapped in Watermark Unryu White Japanese paper
Bound in Twist paper blocked in gold
160 pages printed on Abbey Pure paper
Cloth-covered presentation box lined with paper printed to complement the bindings and tied with grosgrain ribbon
Paper label with title in English and in Japanese script
Masterpieces of the printer’s art
During Japan’s Edo period art and literature flourished and Kitagawa Utamaro (c.1754–1806) rose to fame as one of Japan’s most highly regarded artists and printmakers. Alongside his contemporaries Hiroshige and Hokusai, Utamaro was an acknowledged master of ukiyo-e, pictures of the Floating World.
Designed between 1788 and 1790 the Studies from Nature are amongst Utamaro’s earliest known works and brought together the artist and the era’s best writers, printers and bookbinders. The two-volume The Book of Crawling Creatures, the single-volume Gifts of the Ebb Tide and the two-volume The Book of Myriad Birds are considered the ne plus ultra of the colour woodblock printer’s art and the art of bookmaking of the period.
The Folio Society has printed from amongst the finest surviving first editions – luxury items in their own time and now treasures of the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum – reproducing each element with absolute fidelity. These beautiful books are designed to be read in the traditional Japanese style from back cover to front, and from right to left across the page. In each, Utamaro’s elegant illustrations, as interesting to the naturalist as they are to lovers of art and poetry, are paired with kyōka: playful, erudite and often erotic poems on the sentiments of love, composed by some of the form’s most prominent poets.
‘THE BOOK OF CRAWLING CREATURES’
‘Gifts of the Ebb Tide’
‘The Book of Myriad Birds’
John T. Carpenter, curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has written fascinating translations of all the poems, or kyōka, revised for this edition. The poetry is witty and erudite but also often surprisingly sensual. His accompanying notes reveal verses that are rich in wordplay and allusion to traditional waka (court poetry) and other East Asian classical literature as well as giving information about the flora and fauna depicted. The prefaces and postscripts for The Book of Crawling Creatures and The Book of Myriad Birds are by Timothy Clark and are most interesting, with the postscripts listing other books by the same publisher and the address of the bookseller from which they might be purchased.
Following the translations are three newly commissioned essays. The first, also by Carpenter, provides the perfect introduction to the period’s kyōka movement. He notes that the books ‘have achieved fame for their pictorial and technical brilliance, but the volumes should equally be recognised for their distinguished literary content’. Many of the most influential poetry masters of the day contributed kyōka verses using the form as a means of intellectual escape.
In the second essay, Alfred Haft, project curator in the Japanese Section of the Department of Asia at the British Museum, sets Utamaro’s images in the context of wider trends in Japanese art, explaining how the three titles ‘epitomise the informed, aesthetically refined and broad-minded culture of the Floating World’. Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan and an expert on Japanese culture and art, provides the final piece considering the enigmatic allure of both Utamaro and his enchanting illustrations of insects, shells and birds.
What makes this limited edition so special
Ten years ago, one of our editors visited an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that featured a selection of their most remarkable 18th-century Japanese woodblock prints and publications. At its centre was Kitagawa Utamaro’s Studies from Nature. The flawless illustrations, elegant bindings and exquisite calligraphy were instantly appealing and further enquiries followed. Though these five books were perfect candidates for a limited edition, it was obvious that creating faithful reproductions would be challenging.
Our production director gathered a team of paper makers, craft printers and specialist binders and the work began. After months of trials Smith Settle, a Yorkshire-based printer and hand-bindery, perfected the use of subtle embossing to reproduce the texture and intricate details of the shell ridges and bird feathers in the original books. Pureprint, a reprographics house based in East Sussex, then found a means of representing the mica sheen used to suggest iridescent insect wings and the natural sheen of wet shells. To replicate the first editions as closely as possible, all Utamaro’s illustrations have been printed on Papermilk paper which has the softness of that used originally as well as long milk fibres which give it exceptional strength.
The binding styles, both Japanese and concertina, have been faithfully reproduced by Smith Settle. The cover paper, Twist, was chosen for its texture and though the designs on the original books were somewhat faded and worn, award-winning artist Neil Gower has recreated them with great sensitivity. Each of the titles, as well as the set as a whole, features a printed paper label designed by Japanese calligrapher Kashuu. Various styles of Japanese script are used in the original books but, after carefully examining all the different characters, Kashuu adopted the Kai-sho style to unify the elements. The hand-numbered limitation certificate is wrapped in the softest Watermark Unryu White Japanese paper and this, with all six volumes, is presented in a single cloth-covered folding box, secured with grosgrain ribbon, and made by hand by G. Ryder & Co Ltd in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. The design printed on the paper lining of the box refers to the cover of The Book of Crawling Creatures but is in dark blue and gold to complement the set.
Both the original books and the facsimiles are works of art and The Folio Society is delighted that the result of a long and complex collaboration is truly faithful replicas of such beautiful treasures.
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