Art and eroticism have gone hand in hand for centuries, Japanese Shunga art which reached its height in 1603 to 1867, is still perhaps today, one of the most sensual art forms.

KEISAI EISEN - Shuna with Mount Fuji in the background, Taketori Monogatari series (The Tale of the Bamboo Reaper) Nichiki-e technique On sale at Artmark KEISAI EISEN - Shuna with Mount Fuji in the background, Taketori Monogatari series (The Tale of the Bamboo Reaper) Nichiki-e technique
On sale at Artmark

KATSUKAWA SHUNCHO - Shunga with a pair, which is covered by a green mosquito net, Koshoku Zue Juniko series, Nishiki-e technique On sale at Artmark KATSUKAWA SHUNCHO - Shunga with a pair, which is covered by a green mosquito net, Koshoku Zue Juniko series, Nishiki-e technique
On sale at Artmark

The style was inspired by illustrations in Chinese medicine manuals from the Muromachi era of 1336 to 1573. Shunga can be recognised by it's use of coloured woodcuts, often depicting subjects of the Edo and the Meiji period (17th to early 20th century). The official sale of Shunga images was prohibited from the early 18th century and still today there are restrictions on exhibiting Shunga in Japan.

UTAGAWA KUNIMARU - Shunga with cherry blossoms, Yamato Shikari No Tamazusa series, Nishiki-e technique On sale at Artmark UTAGAWA KUNIMARU - Shunga with cherry blossoms, Yamato Shikari No Tamazusa series, Nishiki-e technique
On sale at Artmark

UTAGAWA KONIYOSHI - Shunga with a devil that separates a pair, Tamakushige series (The beads box) On sale at Artmark UTAGAWA KONIYOSHI - Shunga with a devil that separates a pair, Tamakushige series (The beads box) Nishiki-e technique On sale at Artmark

During the Heian period (794 to 1185) the style was popular with the courtier class. At this time, the art form was created on hand scrolls, often depicting risqué scenes from the imperial courts and monasteries.

In the Edo period (1603 to 1867) the government tried several times to ban Shunga, which led to the art form being created underground.

The characters portrayed in Shunga include both heterosexual and same-sex couples. Tokugawa courtesans were popular subjects, as they achieved the same fame and status as today's Hollywood elite.

UTAGAWA KUNISADA - Shunga the moment after the act, Shiki Nu Nagame series (Spring Pictures), 25.5 x 35 cm, Nishiki-e-technique On sale at Artmark UTAGAWA KUNISADA - Shunga the moment after the act, Shiki Nu Nagame series (Spring Pictures), 25.5 x 35 cm, Nishiki-e-technique
On sale at Artmark

A characteristic of the art form is that the subjects are clothed, as nudity was not explicitly viewed as erotic due to the use of communal baths in Tokugawa Japan.

 KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI - Shunga with a couple in a private room, Manpuku Wagojin series (The Gods of Sex), Nishiki-e technique with metal pigments, 25.5 x 37 cm, 1835, rare On sale at Artmark KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI - Shunga with a couple in a private room, Manpuku Wagojin series (The Gods of Sex), Nishiki-e technique with metal pigments, 25.5 x 37 cm, 1835, rare
On sale at Artmark

Shunga works also have a sense of non-realism as the subject's genitalia is often exaggerated, to the point where it almost became another figure in the painting.

Bucharest auction house Artmark are celebrating Shunga with two dedicated auctions, on 19th and 21st April.

Check out the full catalogue on Barnebys here.

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