The greatest bestseller of nineteenth-century Japanese popular fiction was the False Murasaki’s Rustic Genji (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji) by Ryutei Tanehiko. Published in installments from 1829 until the author’s mysterious death in 1842, the story of a young samurai searching for a missing sword combined adventure, romance, and a clever parody of Japan’s greatest work of classical literature, the real Tale of Genji by the genuine Lady Murasaki, written in about 1000 A.D. Pictures of the hero and the many ladies in his life soon became a popular subject for color woodblock prints, as shown in this exhibition.
Just as modern bestsellers are quickly made into movies, the Rustic Genji was dramatized for the kabuki stage. This talk explores the complex interaction between book, plays, and prints. Sarah E. Thompson, Assistant Curator for Japanese Prints (A.B. Harvard ’73, Ph.D. Columbia ’99), taught Japanese and Asian art history at Vassar College, Oberlin College, and the University of Oregon before coming to the MFA in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, she supervised the Japanese Print Access and Documentation Project (JPADP), which registered, rehoused, digitized, and published online the MFA collection of over 50,000 Japanese prints, the largest outside Japan.