Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all - oneself. Nobody knows his own frontiers… I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road if I knew where it led.

Louis Kahan

Ogata Gekko (1859 - 1920) Urashima Leaving the Palace Under the Sea, from Gekko’s Miscellaneous Drawings, 1894. Oban.


This wonderful print shows just how good Meiji prints can be in quality and design. The print shows Urashima Taro leaving the magical palace under the sea and is from an often repeated Japanese folk tale.

Urashima Taro was a fisherman of the fifteenth century who rescued a young turtle from some bullying children. The following day a huge turtle approaches him and tells him he has saved the daughter of the Emperor of the Sea. As a reward the fisherman is gifted magical gills and taken to the palace beneath the waves. Whilst there he is given a beautiful box and told never to open it.

On his return three days later he finds that three hundred years have elapsed and everyone he knew has died. In distress he opens the box and instantly withers and dies in a pile of dust, the voice of the sea princess saying to him: “I said never to open the box; inside it is your old age”. Incidentally, the hair of the turtle is actually a long fronded algae that grows on the backs of turtles’ shells off the coast of Japan.

Ogata Gekko was a  fine international artist and truly an artist of the Meiji period, exhibiting in London, Paris and Chicago. He was influenced heavily by Hokusai and the tradition of Nihonga - Japanese Style Painting. Despite this he was one of the foremost war artists during the Sino-Japanese war and a fine draughtsman of contemporary events.


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