KAMISAKA, Sekka. ~ Cho sensu. [One thousand butterflies]. Kyoto: Yamada Unsodo, 1904.
2 vols, large 8vo (250 × 180 mm) concertina volumes with a total of 50 double-page coloured woodblock plates, some with gold or silver inks, 5 pp. initial text and two colophon pages. One or two plates with slight foxing, a handful with very light offsetting of opposing sides, but overall exceptionally clean and fresh. Original green silk covered boards, each with printed labels, silver and gold flecked front endpapers. Volume 1 slightly faded with slight wear at corners and to label (the latter with minor loss). A handsome set.
First edition of Kamisaka Sekka’s celebrated butterfly book.
‘A colour-printed book of elaborate decor based on the forms of butterflies. All the designs are “patterned”, but some conform to the actual shape of believable butterflies, though there is certainly no intention to be entomologically accurate; but in some, the artist simply used the insects as a theme for variations, distorting and manipulating the butterfly shape unti lit is barely recognizable, often achieving the kind of art nouveau that we associate with some Secession jewellery... Sekka is especially inventive when he allows swarms of butterflies to float over the page, achieving colourful geometric designs, or, in one, amorphous silver shapes outlined in brown, green and yellow, as evocative and irrational as abstracts by Arp’. (Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, p. 976).
The influence of japonisme on Art nouveau is well documented, but less well-known is the reverse influence of fin de siècle Western design on Japanese art. In Cho sensu, Sekka fuses traditional Japanese motifs with European modernism, experienced first hand in his visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901. At the age of 36, Sekka travelled to Europe on behalf of the Kyoto local government to attend the Glasgow Exhibition. He stayed in Europe about six months researching European craft and design before returning to Kyoto where he served as an instructor at the School of Art and Design. ‘Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) was one of Japan’s leading artists, designers and art instructors. His bold, visually dynamic designs and innovative approach to production made him one of the great visionaries of modern Japanese art and design’ (Kamisaka Sekka: Dawn of modern Japanese Design, 2012).