Saturday, February 22, 2014

Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints
Fine-Art Prints on Paper

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Although the art of printing originated most likely in China, the earliest existing prints are in fact Japanese. In 764 AD the Japanese Empress Shotoku decreed that one million miniature pagodas should be made, with each pagoda to contain one Buddhist charm on a slip of paper. In order to speed up production, the charms were printed rather than written.

Around 1088 Chinese Buddhist text appeared in Japan and one hundred years later, wood-block decorations were added to these texts. Furthermore, by the 12th Century wood block prints that reiterated Buddha’s name were commonplace and by the 15th Century, Buddhist texts were printed with grand and lavish front pieces that illustrated a distinctively Japanese style.

With the increasing wealth of the merchant class, there was a great explosion of secular books and prints. The first Japanese illustrative books appeared around 1650. The early books were simple scrolls with hand painted illustrations. However, very quickly books were printed and bound, with wood blocks used to create illustrations, thereby they could be printed along side the text in a single process. In 1660 Hishikawa Moronobu persuaded his publisher to sell his illustrated work as separate sheets with no text. He later signed his prints – Yamato esti – which means “master of Japanese painting”.

Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694) – Party on a Riverboat.

These prints could be purchased from publisher’s stores or from street vendors and so they found themselves being pasted on walls or screens to brighten up new homes. By the mid-19th Century they could be purchased for the same price as a bowl of rice.

The early illustrated books were mostly sex manuals, illustrating the traditional forty-eight positions. Others were guides to the famous courtesans of the day, with portraits and verse eulogies centring on their beauty and talents.

The early prints were in black and white, but as buyers demanded color, oranges and greens were often painted in by hand. By 1740 reds and greens were added to the published prints using extra wood blocks. Three- and four-color printing began in 1750s and by 1765, Suzuki Harunobu produced the first mass-produced full color prints.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) – Collecting Insects by Lamplight.

All of the images in this post have been procured from a wonderful book - a must have for your library – Nigel Hawthorne, The Art Of Japanese Prints, Hamlyn, Melbourne (1997). This post is just a sampler of what this tome has to offer.


Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints
Hishikawa Moronobu was the first great master of Japanese print. He freed prints from text. He was considered the father of ukiyo-e (ukiyo means “floating world” with the “e” ending meaning pictures; that is, ukiyo-e meaning “floating world pictures”). The initial style featured three key elements, namely: sexual activity, courtesans and Kabuki.

He was born into a family of brocade embroiderers, east of Tokyo bay. He studied under Kambun Master - an anonymous artist whose early prints appear from about 1660 to 1674. Moronobu passed on his skills to his pupils – Sugimura, Moroshige and Tomonobu.

Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694) – Raiko and Shutendoji.
Moronobu’s influence was to spread far beyond his own studio. The Kaigetsudo school under Kaigetsudo Ando (active 1700-1714), flourishing in the early 18th Century, began producing ukiyo-e prints, which depicted full-figured women in the style of Moronobu.

In the same period 1680s-1690s, Sugimura Jihei produced a large number of erotic prints, the style of which resembles that of Moronobu’s ukiyo-e. Sadly, nothing is known of his life.

Sugimura Jihei (active 1680-1698) – The Instant Lover.

Kabuku simply means “fashionable”. Many of the women dancers in Kabuki troupes supplemented their earnings by selling sexual favors. The authorities cracked down in order to prevent Kabuki merely being a front for prostitution. The wives and daughters of merchants flocked to the Kabuki and so it became an element in ukiyo-e.

Okumura Masanobu was self-taught, but learnt his art from studying the work of another ukiyo-e artist namely Torii Kiyonobu who founded the Torii school of painting. Masanobu was a great innovator. He developed the uki-e or “floating picture” which incorporated a Western sense of perspective. His other innovations were wide pillar pictures and pink pictures. The latter were hand colored with pink – the pink areas were then covered with lacquer or glue to give added luster.

Okumura Masanobu (1686-1764) – Girls Going To The Theatre.

Torii Kiyomasu was the second titular head of the Torii school of painting. He further developed his father’s highly stylized method in order to emphasize superhuman strength. He used strong lines in order to accentuate muscle tone. At that time, a rough style of acting in Kabuki was very popular.

Torii Kiyomasu II (1694-1716) – Actors in the Roles of Soga no Goro And Asahina Saburo.

Suzuki Harunobu introduced polychrome prints. He studied under Nishimura Shigenaga who invented narrow triptychs and stone painted pictures. He began work making actor prints in the style of the Torii school. When Harunobu was commissioned by a haiku poetry society to produce a calendar for 1765, he found a new and thicker paper had been developed that could withstand printing several times. At the same time registration notches had been devised that allowed the alignment and so proper registration of color. Hence polychromatic prints became possible.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1780) – The Assignation.

Katsukawa Shunsho brought a new realism to the actor prints and to the portraits of beautiful women. Along with his pupil Katsukawa Shunko he added prints of sumo wrestlers to the floating world picture cannon. These became a staple of the Katsukawa school along with half-length portraits of Kabuki actors. Another student Katsukawa Shunyei, began producing warrior prints.

Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792) – Lovers Becoming Familiar.

After the introduction of full-color printing, there followed the golden age of ukiyo-e prints. One of the leading proponents was Isoda Koryusai who relinquished his rank of samurai in order to become a ukiyo-e artist. The samurai were supposed to follow the tenets of Confucianism, which denies the beauty of women and preaches shame to men who are solely attracted by a woman’s charm. Theoretically samurai were not allowed into Yoshiwara or the Kabuki.

Isoda Koryusai (active 1765-1788) – The Courtesan Morokoshi of Echizan with Child and Attendant.

Kitao Masanobu studied under Kitao Shigemasa, who developed large size prints. Kitao Masanobu eventually abandoned large prints and became famous as a fiction writer using the pen name Santo Kyoden.

Kitao Masanobu (1761-1816) – Oban Diptych From Autographs Of Yoshiwara Beauties.

In the Kensei era (1789-1801) another attempt was made to clamp down on the publishing industry. The artists and writer’s of Edo’s floating world came under particular attack, with publisher Tsutaju having to close his shop due to fines and leading print maker Kitagawa Utamaro was jailed for making a series of prints which satirized figures from the sixteen century.

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) – Girl with a Mirror.

This led writers and printmakers to change tack. Some left, while others devised secret codes to fool the censors, and others moved to safer subjects. Katsushika Hokusai became a legend overnight with his “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”. There were actually forty-six views printed. Of course in the West he is also well known for the print – The Great Wave Of Kanagaw – which is a part of this series.

The printmakers who followed Hosukai’s wake were assisted with his Manga – a series of source-books for beginners, in which he sketched every conceivable subject.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) – Fuji In Clear Weather (from the series “36 Views of Mount Fuji”).

Kitagawa Utamaro's great rival was Chobunsai Eishi, the son of a leading samurai family. His grandfather was a treasury minister in the Shogun government. Eishi himself was trained in the studio of an official painter Kano Eisen-in but in the early 1780s he resigned his position to pursue a career in ukiyo-e.

Initially he fell under the influence of Kiyonaga and then Utamaro. However, unlike these artists his prints never lost their aristocratic detachment. His women appear sublime, untouched by the real world and its cares.

Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829) – A Beauty from the Pleasure Quarter.

The last great master of the ukiyo-e was Utagawa Hiroshige. He was a low ranked samurai. His father was the firewarden at Edo castle. By the age of ten, Hiroshige was producing impressive paintings and in 1811 he entered the studio of Utagawa Toyohiro, where he took the name Hiroshige. From 1818 on he produced actor prints, warrior prints and landscapes.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) – A Seascape (from the series “60-Odd Famous Views Of the Provinces”).

While the ukiyo-e tradition continued, it never reached the height of popularity of the golden era. Eventually 20th Century Japanese printmakers could hardly help but be influenced by the West. Goyo Hashiguchi learnt Western-style painting under Kuroda Seiki. Although he has been compared to Utamaro and Hiroshige his compositions appear more influenced by Gaugin.

Like most modern ukiyo-e artists, Goyo worked in a very different way to the printmakers of the golden era. He did not just draw the design and leave the rest to the block-maker and printer. Rather he executed the whole process himself.

Goyo Hashiguchi (1880-1921) – Woman after the Bath.

No comments: