Koryusai Isoda, Hashira-e, Music Performers

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Artist: Koryusai Isoda (1735–1790)
Title: Music Performers in a Boat
Date: 18th century
Size: 12.2 x 67 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The narrow size of this print and its limited printing area give way to a surprising amount of detail. Music performers are seen on a boat, playing different instruments such as shamisen, kokyu, flutes, cymbals and drums. Although his early works include many bijin-ga influenced by Harunobu's style, by the late 1770s Koryusai was creating oban-size fashion prints in a style of his own, depicting an urbane, realistic feminine type. Characteristics of his work are an emphasis on clothes, elaborate coiffures and powerful figure-drawing. Of his 600 or so woodblock prints, most are of courtesans and actors. Of all Japanese artists, it is probably he who created the most, and the most inventive, hashira-e.

Hashira-e, or pillar prints, is a narrow print format originally intended for decoration of the supporting pillars in traditional Japanese houses. The prints would have been pasted to the pillars and exposed to the elements of the Japanese household, making those that have survived very rare collectibles. While these more unusual sizes present their own challenges to the printing process, they also allow the artist to be experimental, imaginative, and innovative with the design’s compositional limitations.

Subjects range from the traditional portrayals of bijin (beautiful women), to legendary figures and heroes, to birds and flowers, in a limited space brimming with artistic imagination and expression.

Koryusai Isoda (act. 1764 - 1788)


Isoda Koryusai was a woodblock print artist best known for his bijinga (prints of beautiful women), hashira-e (pillar prints) and a number of shunga (erotic prints). He was born in a samurai household in the service of the Tsuchiya lords but when losing his feudal masters, he moved to Edo where he turned his hand to ukiyo-e.

From 1768, while his role-model Harunobu Suzuki (1725-1770) was still alive, he called himself Haruhiro and it wasn’t until 1771 that he assumed the name of Koryusai. Although his early works include many bijinga, where the influence of Harunobu is still marked, by the late 1770s he was creating oban-size fashion prints in a style of his own, depicting an urbane, realistic feminine type. Characteristics of his work are an emphasis on clothes, elaborate hairstyles and powerful figure-drawing without background. His figures are robust, with rather strong colouring including a distinctive rust-orange that his audience seems to have been particularly fond of.

Around 1780 the honorary title Hokkyo (Bridge of the Law) – reserved for artists and scholars, though originally a rank in the priesthood – was bestowed upon him by the Imperial court. Works with this signature are rare but constitute a unique final phase in the career of one of ukiyo-e's most unusual printmakers.

Around 600 of Koryusai’s works have been documented, most on the theme of courtesans and actors. Of all Japanese artists, it is probably he who created the greatest number of hashira-e (narrow, portrait format pictures), as well as large-format studies of birds.

More Information
Print FormatHashira-e (Pillar Print)
ArtistKoryusai Isoda (act. 1764 - 1788)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Male & Female
Size12.2 x 67 cm
Condition ReportDarkened and worn edges. Soiling and discolouration. Paper residue on the back.