The Lister List

Origami in Fine Art

Yesterday I received a private e-mail asking if I knew of any early paintings which incorporated paperfolding. I thought that my reply might be of interest to subscribers to Origami-L, so here it is.

I am asked if I know of any early paintings which incorporate folded paper figures as part of the background or foreground detail. My enquirer has a vague recollection of having seen a European painting which incorporates a small "pajarita". He studied art history many years ago, but has been unable to locate a reference to such a picture. One picture which depicts a pajarita is "The Merrymakers" by Carolus Duran of Paris, dated 1870, which is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. This picture shows a group of three women sitting found a table entertaining a child of about 18 months who sits on the lap of one of the women. On the table are an apparently live bird with a long tail and also a traditional paper pajarita which the woman sitting opposite the child is holding. This picture is reproduced on the front page of the Newsletter of The Friends of the Origami Center of North America for the Fall of 1989.

It will probably be known that the Friends of the Origami Center are now known as Origami USA and the name of the Newsletter has been changed to "The Paper". I do not know whether copies of this issue are still available. There are also two paintings of the Spanish poet and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who died in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Both are by Ignacio Zuloaga y Zamora and depict Unamuno's angular paperfolds of birds. They were created by Unamuno in the early years of the 20th Century, and anticipated by some twenty or thirty years some of the techniques of the later Japanese folder, Akira Yoshizawa, who is credited with revolutionising the art of paperfolding.

I do not know the actual sizes of the two paintings. Painting A is reproduced in black and white in "The Art of Origami" by Samuel Randlett (1961) and it shows Unamuno with two of his paper birds. I do not know where the original painting is kept. Randlett does not give his source or any acknowledgement. I also, separately, have a photograph of painting A in colour, which shows it to be in horizontal format. I recently received copies of reproductions of both paintings from David Brill, to whom they had been given by Juan Gimeno of Spain a few years ago. The reproduction of painting A is, again, in black and white, but that of painting B is in colour and shows it to be in vertical format. It includes only one single paper bird. The two paintings both seem to be "finished" works and while the compositions of the two paintings, with Unamuno sitting at his desk are broadly similar, neither seems to be a sketch for the other. There is no further information about where the original paintings are kept.

Many years ago someone asked me about a painting in the Louvre, in Paris, which she understood depicted a paperfold. At one time I made a fairly detailed study of the paintings in the Louvre, but I do not remember ever coming across such a picture. It may have been that the enquirer was confusing it with the painting at Detroit which was by Carolus Duran who resided in Paris. Origami is quite frequently depicted in Japanese prints, often of exquisite quality, of the 18th and 19th centuries. So far as I know, there is no book of reproductions of them in English, but there is a large A4 sized booklet in Japanese which depicts a fair collection of them. This is by Satoshi Takagi and the translation of the tittle is sometimes given as "Origami from the Classics". The booklet was published in 1993 by the Nippon Origami Association and is probably still obtainable from them.

In October, 1999 there was an exhibition on the history of origami held in Tatsuno, Japan. The Japanese historian of origami, Masao Okamura wrote the text for a really splendid catalogue of the exhibition. Although I cannot read the text (how I wish I could!), I can appreciate the magnificent illustrations which are mostly in full colour. This book, too, gives a good selection of Japanese prints depicting origami, along with much other iterating matter. If anyone know of any other illustrations of origami in works of fine art, I shall be very grateful for the information.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon