Young lover surprising a girl holding a Shamisen

Suzuki Harunobu
c. 1725 - 1770
Young lover surprising a girl holding a Shamisen
1767 - 68
Woodblock print, nishiki-e
Horizontal chūban, 205 x 282 mm

The young man, with one arm round the girl’s waist, takes hold of her lower leg with the other arm. The girl gently restrains him with one hand, bending her head down to his. The lovers are on a veranda which overlooks a garden with a twisting stream and luxuriant bushes of plants and flowers.

The print, unsigned like most of shunga prints, is unanimously accepted as the work of Harunobu.

Very good impression, very good colour, generally in very good condition.

Another impression of this print is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession number RES.09.318.6).

David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Leiden, 2013, vol. I p. 161, no. 234.


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 He was able to attain a polychrome brilliance in his prints whose standards have seldom been superseded.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