Junichiro Sekino, Nude in Bath
Junichiro Sekino, Nude in Bath, detail

Jun'ichiro Sekino, 1914-1988

Nude in Bath

self-carved woodblock print with mica, signed and numbered in pencil at lower right, Junichiro, Sekino 7/50, not dated, ca. 1949

dai oban yoko-e 12 1/2 by 19 1/4 in., 31.6 by 48.9 cm

As is typical with early Sekino prints, there are intriguing variations when comparing impressions. This very rare print differs from the impression from the Juda Collection (now Stein Collection) in a variety of ways. The Stein impression has a distinctive woven pattern in the grey background, the water is more uniform and saturated, the skin seems to be whiter in some areas, and her face is more mottled. This impression has a very rough woodgrain pattern background more subtle gradation in color along the surface of the water (particularly in the upper area along the rim of the bath), and there is a dark area of pubic hair. According to Elias Martin in Behind Paper Walls, the pencil signature with his full name in cursive script (as opposed to the Z. SEKINO stamp) may indicate a later studio printing of the work. However, it would be somewhat surprising if Sekino chose to add the pubic hair detail at a later date; as block and composition changes were usually done to improve the appeal of a print, it would be an unusual choice to alter the composition in a less-than-chaste manner that may have narrowed the audience for the subject.

This composition compares very closely with an oil on canvas painting in the Tate Collection made in 1925 by Pierre Bonnard, The Bath (Le Bain), which was one of a series that the artist made of his wife Marthe in the bath. The Bonnard was presented to the museum by Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill through the Contemporary Art Society in 1930. Perhaps either the Society or the Museum publicized the acquisition or published the work allowing access to the image by Sekino at some point in the following two decades. While images of women bathing are not unusual in Japanese art, the cropped compositions of a suspended figure in a Western-style bathtub are strikingly similar.

References:
The Helen and Felix Juda Collection of Japanese Modern and Contemporary Prints, Christie's New York, April 1988, lot no. 358
Martin, Elias, Behind Paper Walls: Early Works and Portraits by Jun'ichiro Sekino, Floating World Gallery, 2010, cat. no. 11 (Ex. Juda Collection)

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