Shunga: Sex and humour in Japanese art 1600-1900

British Museum

3 October 2013 – 5 January 2014

£3.50 with National Art Pass (£7 standard entry)

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An exhibition of erotic Japanese paintings and drawings that venerated the joyful union of the sexes.

It seems we have the Victorians to blame for the decline of Shunga in Japanese art. Until those stuffy puritans came along to ruin the fun, Shunga (spring pictures) was an important aspect of Japanese culture dating back to the seventh-century. Many of the images depicted couples making love, and there was often a humorous aspect to the narrative with the unsuspecting couple being surprised in the act.

Shunga was at its most prolific in the eighteenth-century, when artists like Harunobu were churning out as many Shunga paintings as landscapes. While in the nineteenth-century Hokusai, celebrated in the west for his minimal depictions of Japan, was a prolific Shunga painter. This exhibition seeks to reveal, through Shunga pictures, the social and cultural world of Japan through the ages.

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Many Shunga pictures were made as scrolls that could be kept in the sleeves of Kimonos. They would often depict several acts of lovemaking, almost like a comic strip.

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Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5.30pm (Fri until 8.30pm)

Closed 24 – 26 Dec and 1 Jan

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)