Chikanobu Toyohara, Courtesans, Boys' Day Celebration


Original Japanese woodblock print. 

Artist: Chikanobu Toyohara (1838-1912)
Title: No.12 Courtesans Yamato of Inamoto and Kichiji from Nakanomachi
Series: Honoured Courtesans, Praise for Multi-Coloured Blossoms
Publisher: Kobayashi Tetsujiro
Date: 1883
Condition report: Backed, slightly yellowed, minor stain on the face, some spots.
Size: 35.7 x 23.7 cm

In 'Honoured Courtesans, Praise for Multi-Coloured Blossoms' series, Chikanobu introduces images of famous courtesans from various teahouses. The 'multi-coloured blossoms' - women - are presented in numerous scenes, such as leisurely spending their time by enjoying garden walks, playing traditional Japanese musical instruments, talking, tea ceremony, or participating in seasonal activities. The beauties, usually placed in an exquisite setting, are always dressed in elegant garments with beautiful details and vibrant shades.

The top of each print features a small scene with a fan-shaped inset on the right, explaining the subject.

The courtesans in this print prepare for Boys' Day celebration ('tango no sekku'), also known as Iris Festival ('ayame no hi'). Nowadays renamed to Children's Day, it was one of the five annual ceremonies held at the imperial court, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon in the Chinese calendar.

Samurai dolls in the right corner and a traditional Japanese helmet held by one of the ladies, kabuto, symbolise strength and vitality. Above the beauties, attached to a banner, a carp-shaped windsock (koinobori) is hung, waiting for a blow of the wind. The black colour indicates a representation of the father. Finally, as Iris flowers start to bloom in May and their leaves resemble the blade of a sword, they also are one of the many symbols of the Boys' Day.

Chikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)

Chikanobu Yoshu was a woodblock print artist from the end of the 19th century. He was one of the most prolific woodblock print artists of this period, working with both traditional subjects, such as actors, courtesans, scenes of famous sites, beautiful women, and with topical subjects, such as war and rebellion. Born into a samurai family in Echigo province, Chikanobu became one of the final, great, ukiyo-e artists aiming to preserve the traditional culture of Japan at a time when the country was becoming rapidly modernised. As a child, he studied Kano style painting. When he moved to Tokyo he studied print design first at the studio of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797-1861) and later on at that of Kunisada I Utagawa (1786–1865).

The end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) brought a rapid influx of Western values and technologies that influenced many artists of this time, including Chikanobu. As a result, he developed a distinctive personal style blending a close adherence to the traditional technique of ukiyo-e, and occasional western imagery. He designed prints rooted in traditional myths and legends but also kaika-e, prints that documented Japan's modernization, the Emperor Meiji and the imperial court's promotion of that modernization.

Even though Chikanobu’s prints showcase a variety of subjects, due to the wealth of his beauties and court ladies works, it is believed that the customs and events of the imperial family were his favourite subject. Out of these prints, the most well-known series is probably ‘The Inner Palace of Chiyoda’ (‘Chiyoda no O-oku’), which depicts the court life in the palace of the Tokugawa shogunate. Influenced by the rapid changes happening in Japanese society following the Meiji restoration, Chikanobu also produced beauty prints showing ladies in Western clothing, as opposed to kimono. Chikanobu's last works in the early years of the 20th century featured brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, models of appropriate behaviour for the future.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Kimono Design
Size35.7 x 23.7 cm