The Floating World That Was

Mar 10,2015 | 20:28 EDT By Bidsquare

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is running a particularly interesting show right now called Seduction: Japan’s Floating World. Running till May 10, this dazzling collection explores "The Floating World,” a term taken from Japan’s Edo Period (1615-1868) that referred to both the pleasure quarters in major cities and a pleasure-seeking way of life.

The most famous of these – the Las Vegas of its time - was the Yoshiwara, a walled and moated district in Edo (Tokyo) where one could abandon the rigors of daily life in pursuit of sensual delights. Like Vegas or its friend the Playboy Mansion, it traded in sex, excess and fantasy, and its reputation as such brought it economic success and a hold on the popular imagination. 

Those looking to tap into the art of  “The Floating World” won’t need to hop a plane to SF. With Asia Week New York ramping up, Bidsquare has a number of examples of the work sprinkled throughout auctions across the site.

Lot 236 of Waterman’s Art & Antiques Auctioneers’ upcoming Fine Asian & Western Art sale is typical of the art from the period. A print by respected artisan Kitagawa Utamaro, Okita and the Temple Guard tells the tale of famous Edo teahouse waitress, Naniwaya Okita, and a temple guardian statue or Nio, in a tug of war over a pillow.

Lot 233 (above left), from the same sale, features the work of famed Edo artist Keisai Eisen. Titled Beauty with a Lantern, this print features a mid-ranking courtesan tending a lantern while gripping tissues between her teeth before heading over to service a client behind the screen.  

In fact Bidsquare is offering work from right across the Edo Period. Lot 413 of Leland Little Auctions Fine & Decorative Arts sale is a Japanese Four-Panel Floor Screen from late in the period, and depicts a peacock amidst rocks and peonies beneath cloud shrouded mountains.