Treasure: Woodblock wonderful but not original
Like many people, fast friends Audrey Badaczewski and Leslie Carr enjoy trolling for treasure at thrift shops. Recently at a favorite Macomb County haunt they came across and were attracted to an Asian print with the artist’s name, Hiroshige, hand-written on a piece of tape affixed to the frame. The thrift shop is known as a dealer favorite, so they snapped up the small piece for its bargain price of $7.
“We go everywhere and often,” Audrey explained to appraiser Mary Kossarek at a recent appraisal session held downtown at DuMouchelles. “We bought it together.” “I paid for the print and Andrey bought the coffee,” Leslie added with a laugh. They picked up the piece in the fall because they were intrigued by the artist — a well-known Japanese print maker — and the price was reasonable, they said.
According to Brittanica.com, Hiroshige was born in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1797 and died in the same city in 1858. “Hiroshige, in full Ando Hiroshige, professional names Utagawa Hiroshige and Ichiyusai Hiroshige, original Ando Tokutaro…one of the last great ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) masters of the colour woodblock print. His genius for landscape composition was first recognized in the West by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. His print series Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido (1833-34) is perhaps his finest achievement.” The site went to explain that “It has been estimated that Hiroshige created more than 5,000 prints and that as many as 10,000 copies were made from some of his woodblocks… there was in his work a human touch that no artist of the school had heretofore achieved, his pictures revealed a beauty that seemed somehow tangible and intimate, snow, rain, mist and moonlight scenes compose some of his most poetic masterpieces.”
Audrey and Leslie’s find is known as “Akasaka” or “Thirty-Seventh Station,” says the appraiser. The woodblock print is among Hiroshige’s best-known images and museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, have originals in their permanent collection.
Unfortunately for the treasure hunters and friends, theirs is one of the many later copies of the artist’s work, Kossarek said. “There were a few clues that it wasn’t original,” she pointed out to them during the appraisal. The paper quality, or lack of, is one indicator. Another is the small dots visible under a magnifying glass. “If you look and see dots similar to those you’d see in a cartoon, that indicates it’s a more modern reproduction,” she said.
While it’s not original, the appraiser did fill them in on the work’s subject, which she says depicts an inn famous in the period. The chop mark in the upper right is both a signature and censor’s mark. She said that the print is probably worth about $15 as is — still twice what they paid — and that despite being a copy, “it’s a really nice reproduction. They did a good job getting in all the colors and details.”
The pair still likes the piece even if it’s not worth as much as they had hoped. They’re debating what to do with it next.
“We’ll have to discuss it,” Leslie joked. “We may have to cut it down the tree and each take half.”
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About this item
Item: Japanese woodblock print
Owned by: Audrey Badaczewski and Leslie Carr
Appraised by: Mary Kossarek, DuMouchelles
Estimated value: $15