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Japán Masszirozónő (The Blind Masseuse)

Japán Masszirozónő (The Blind Masseuse)
signed and inscribed 'TORNAI. GY, TOKIO' (lower right)
oil on canvas
67 x 27 ¾ in. (170.2 x 70.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1905-1906.
with Grill Gergely R.T., Budapest.
with Bizományi Kereskedőház és Záloghitel Rt, Budapest.
P. Hepp, 'Concours et expositions,' La chronique des arts et de la curiosité, Paris, 11 January 1908, p. 11, as Masseuse aveugle.
London, Goupil Gallery, Japan and India, May-June 1907, no. 69, as The Blind Masseuse.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Gyula Tornai, 3-16 January 1908, catalogue no. unknown, as Masseuse aveugle.
Budapest, Műcsarnok, Japán és India, October 1909, no. 138.

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Lot Essay

Born in 1861 in Görgö, Gyula Tornai began his artistic education at the academies in Vienna, Munich and in Guyla Benczur’s studio in Budapest. While in Munich, the young artist studied with Hans Makart, and his mature style was heavily influenced by Makart’s aestheticism and tonality known as Makartstil. Makart’s vibrantly colored and theatrical, large-scale paintings had a lasting effect on Tornai and is clearly evident in the present work.
Tornai exhibited in London, Paris and in the Budapest Art Gallery in 1909 and in the National Salon in 1917. He began his career painting the genre scenes which were so poplar in the last quarter of the 19th century, but after he began his foreign travels to India, China, Japan and Morocco his themes changed to depictions of the varied and exotic locations and customs of those destinations. Tornai stayed in Tangier from 1890 to 1891, and in 1900 he exhibited pictures in the Exposition universelle in Paris to great acclaim.
In 1904, Tornai offered a significant number of works from these journeys for sale in Budapest in order to finance an artistic adventure to India and Japan. The sale of the paintings was a great success and in the summer of 1905, the artist set off for the Far East. He began his Japanese foray by painting a portrait of the former Japanese prime minister Count Okuma, and through the auspices of this influential patron, the artist was allowed access to aspects of Japanese life often hidden from Europeans at the time. This immersion into Japanese culture kindled an interest in the world of Buddhism and Shintoism. Over the next sixteen months, Tornai traveled throughout the Land of the Rising Sun and visited Nara, Kyoto, Nikko and Nagoya.
Upon his return from this two year journey which included a tour in India, the artist gathered together sixty large canvases and several studies and sent them on exhibition through several major European cities, including London, Paris, Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig and finally Budapest in the autumn of 1909. The present work was included in this exhibition as number 69 and was explained in the artist’s own words: ‘Regular massage was an ancient Japanese treatment, mostly carried out by blind men or women’.
The present works depicts a goze, or a visually impaired Japanese woman. Goze mostly supported themselves as musicians and masseuses, spending a good portion of the year on the road touring from village to village. From the Edo period onwards, goze were closely regulated and the women were required to be part of organizations and adhere to a strict set of rules. By belonging to these organizations, these women were allowed a degree of independence, and because the goze were members of an officially sanctioned group they were also afforded a degree of protection during their tours.
Tornai was interested in chronicling everyday life in Japan in addition to capturing the likenesses of royalty and the nobility. Although the present work does not depict a member of the upper echelons of Japanese society, Tornai has monumentalized his subject through the sheer size of the painting, and further enhanced the importance of his subject by designing a frame for the work. In addition, he has chosen to completely fill the picture plane with the image of the blind musician, and depicting her with precise attention to detail, while rendering the background more indistinctly.
The goze stands fully frontal, holding her staff in one hand and a blue enameled teapot in the other, her shamisen slung across her back. Her clothing, though not richly embroidered nor of expensive cloth, is patterned and her hair is wrapped in a pastel patterned scarf. She appears to be calling out, perhaps offering her services to passers-by. Around her neck hangs her certificate, which validates her association with the Institute for the Blind. With Japán Masszirózonő (The Blind Masseuse), Tornai has given the viewer a world totally foreign to the European sensibility and has captured a moment lost in time in an exotic and faraway land.

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