genji scene (genji-e)
In the 19th century, a novel by Ryūtei Tanehiko gave rise to a completely new genre in Japanese printing: the Genji.
False Murasaki and a Country Genji, the full title of the novel, was published as a series between 1829 and 1842. The story charts the experiences of womaniser Prince Mitsuuji.
Tanehiko based his Genji on the eponymous 11th-century novel, the ‘world’s first novel’ featuring Prince Genji as the leading man. This genre is characterised by an enormous wealth of characters, costumes, gardens and interiors.
The Genji artist
The text of Tanehiko’s Genji was illustrated by renowned artist Kunisada. The series achieved enormous commercial success.
In 1838, Kunisada therefore also started designing individual prints imbued with the story of Genji. It was precisely these prints that Van Gogh selected from the stocks of art trader Bing.
Genji was so popular that elements of the story even appeared in completely different genres. For example, Hiroshige brought the print of the 37th station on the Tōkaidō road to life by including a scene from the book.
Back then, the Japanese viewers would have immediately recognised this blurring of the boundaries between the real world and that of literature.