The secret love letter

Suzuki Harunobu
c. 1725 - 1770
The secret love letter
c. 1765-17
Woodblock print, nishiki-e
Vertical chūban, 272 x 201 mm

Signed: Harunobu ga

Provenance: on the verso a circular red stamped mark which includes two Japanese characters.


Fine impression and colour. In very good condition.

A young woman reading a love letter by candle light whilst another girl sleeps under a mosquito net.

A very rare print; we know only another impression of this design in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums / Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Cambridge, object number 1933.4.2635.

the print in Cambridge has been published in Narazaki Muneshige, Ukiyo-e shuka [Collection of the Masterpieces of Ukiyo-e Prints in Museums] Volume 8: Foggu Bijutsukan [Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University], Neruson Bijutsukan [Nelson Atkins Museum]..., Shogaku-kan (Tokyo, Japan, 1980 [Showa 55]), Color Plate 051; p. 91 (entry p. 183).


There is no doubt that Harunobu ranks as one of the most enchanting masters of ukiyo-e in 18th century. He is said to have studied under Shigenaga, but his early prints are in the Torii and Toyonobu manner. By 1762, however, he had already developed his unique style, which was soon to dominate the ukiyoe-e world.
In 1765 there was a revolution in Japanese woodblock printmaking. Toward the end of 1764, Harunobu was commissioned to execute a number of designs for calendar prints for the coming year. Various noted literati of Edo contributed designs and ideas, and the printers outdid themselves to produce technically unusual work. From this combination of talents was born the nishiki-e (brocade picture) and the surimono genre was also beginning to emerge. These prints were issued at New Year, 1765. Harunobu’s full genius for both colour and line was quickly developed by this new technique. He was able to attain a polychrome brilliance in his prints whose standards have seldom been superseded. Though we know nothing of Harunobu's formal education, he was certainly one of the most literate of the ukiyoe-e artists. In many of his prints, verses and design are wedded in a happy combination seldom seen before or after, and his ideal of femininity was one of the most influential in the history of ukiyo-e.

Other works of the master