Tsuchiya Koitsu (1870-1949) was one of the representative shinhanga scenery artists alongside with Kawase Hasui and Yoshida Hiroshi. Born in Shizuoka, Tsuchiya Koitsu went to Tokyo to pick up wood-carving skills and in 1886, he studied under Kobayashi Kiyochika. Up till 1904, Tsuchiya Koitsu stayed in his master’s house and helped out as an assistant; Tsuchiya Koitsu was the youngest disciple Kobayashi Kiyochika ever had and he was very close to the Kobayashi family to the point where he would help out with household chores like taking care of the children. Tsuchiya Koitsu temporarily left the art scene due to sickness and the decline of the ukiyoe, but he reappeared once again at the death anniversary commemoration exhibition of his master. It was only after Tsuchiya Koitsu’s 60 years old that he started gaining recognition in the woodblock print world. After that, Tsuchiya Koitsu continued making beautiful scenery art of Japan with the help of publisher Doi Sadaichi.
In CHERRY BLOSSOM AT NAGOYA CASTLE (1937), Tsuchiya Koitsu meticulously captured all the important parts of Nagoya Castle, including Shachihoko, the legendary mythical creature, which was believed to ward off fire misfortunes. Green pine trees were commonly planted in castles as part of emergency food supplies, and the stone base underneath the castle gives it a grand imposing look. The pink cherry blossom flowers, green pine trees and white castle provide a relaxing colour contrast as they mesh together to form this stunning work.
Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), also known as Youshuu Chikanobu, was a famous Bakumatsu/Meiji period ukiyo-e artist. During the Meiji Restoration, Toyohara Chikanobu joined the Ueno Shougitai troops as a lower-ranking vassal of Bakufu, where he fought with the Seifugun; he was captured and handed over to the Takada domain. After the restoration, Toyohara Chikanobu focused on art and produced great works with a wide variety of genres which encompasses beauty portraits, court paintings and history arts. In 1884, Toyohara Chikanobu’s art was exhibited at the very first Paris-Japan art exhibition where he received great reviews, and won the first prize in the second competition held in the following year. Toyohara Chikanobu produced countless of art with great value as they reflect the transition of culture as Japan underwent great changes during the reformation.
Toyohara Chikanobu’s SHIN BIJIN, BEAUTY WITH A FAN (1897-98) shows a beautiful lady with her head facing backward in an elegant manner. Her hair was placed up nicely and it’s clear that the lady has taken tremendous effort in looking neat despite her simple hair ornament. The details of her kimono were spectacular as realistic depiction of cherry blossom trees filled up the entire space. The obi belt of the lady’s of a darker red colour with gaudy patterns. The blue fan, on the other hand, was plain with three stripes; this provides balance to the entire art piece. The plain background also highlights the beauty of the lady and the elaborate costume patterns.
Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)’s a prolific ukiyoe artist who has produced over tens of thousands of art. Utagawa Kunisada studied under the great Utagawa Toyokuni artist and he’s extremely popular, to the point of overshadowing fellow artists Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Hiroshige. Utagawa Kunisada first debuted in the ukiyoe world at the age of 22 and pursued his passion till his death at the age of 79.
Utagawa Kunisada originally focused on drawing actors and beauties of the Edo. In fact, in those times he would produce art works on a monthly basis based on the latest stages and popular ladies of the red-light Yoshiwara district. At a time where there was no television or internet, Utagawa Kunisada was known to be the “broadcasting cameraman” as he captured all the latest up-to-date popular people in his works. It’s no wonder why the works of Utagawa Kunisada were lauded to have high cultural values. In the middle of the Tenpou era, Utagawa Kunisada took on the challenge of creating scenery arts, proving his capability to create art pieces with varying genres.
In ONOE KIKUJIRO II AS FUSAHACHI'S WIFE NUI (1852), Utagawa Kunisada captured down the actor and backdrop realistically as we see Onoe Kikujiro II looking outside the wooden window at the shadow of a man, While Onoe Kikujiro II’s a man, he managed to portray himself as a convincing lady as his makeup was impeccable and his gesture was very dainty and lady-like.
In KAWARAZAKI GONJURO I AS GORŌ TOKIMUNE (1860), we see Goro Tokimune looking into the distance with a melancholic expression; his father was killed and he lost his brother when he and his brother took avenge on the person behind their father’s death. It’s no wonder why he looked like he has lost all hopes in this world, even when he’s gazing upon the beautiful cherry blossom trees. The heart-wrenching expression of his was wonderfully captured by Utagawa Kunisada. One should not miss the details of his clothes with colorful butterflies and intricate patterns of their wings. The contrast between the beauty and dark side of life really stands out in this piece.
Utagawa Kunisada proves his versatility with NAKAMURA TAMASUKE I AS MORIGUCHI KURO (1852) as we see a dynamical scene of Moriguchi Kuro in a fight. He’s surrounded by a couple of people wielding the swords. His expression was grim and determined; his eyes were popping out and his lips were downward-sloping; we could almost hear the intense sound of swords striking against each other. The hairstyle of Moriguchi Kuro’s rather interesting as it’s parted to the sides like the legs of a spider. Like Utagawa Kunisada’s other works, here we see intricate features on the clothing of Moriguchi Kuro with hexagonal patterns and cranes which symbolize longevity and good luck.
This amazing article written by Yeong!