Chikanobu Toyohara, Courtesans, Early Spring


Original Japanese woodblock print. 

Artist: Chikanobu Toyohara (1838-1912)
Title: No.28 Courtesans Nanakoshi of Daimonji and Matsu from Nakanomachi
Series: Honoured Courtesans, Praise for Multi-Coloured Blossoms
Publisher: Kobayashi Tetsujiro
Date: 1884
Condition report: Trimmed, backed, slightly yellowed.
Size: 35.6 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.

Two courtesans relax by drinking sake and admiring an early spring landscape. A group of sparrows gather around a small straw bird-feeder. Situated on the right is the round Japanese Window of Enlightenment ('satori no mado'), representing the spirit and mind of Zen and Buddha.

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 FormatOther
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Kimono Design
Size35.6 x 23.7 cm