This section introduces a range of Japanese woodblock print artists whose work comes through our gallery.
0 - 1800
active 1790 – 1799
Eisho Chokosai was a pupil of Eishi Hosoda. Emphasis in his oeuvre are bijin prints and bust portraits.
1756 - 1829
Chobunsai Eishi, also known as Hosoda Eishi, had an unusual background for a woodblock print artist. Born into a wealthy and noble samurai lineage, he did not fit the usual profile of an ukiyo-e artist, as they tended to come from a less wealthy and prestigious background. Chobunsai’s family were the lords of Tanba and one of his relatives was even close to the Shogun in his profession as a government official responsible for financial matters. Despite his standing and sizable government stipend, Chobunsai abandoned his official post at the age of 30 to devote his life to art.
Following the habits of the strictly hierarchical samurai society, Chobunsai’s career started as a painter in the traditional Kano school, as one of the official painters to the Shogunate who focused on depicting elegant birds and flowers in the Chinese style. Despite his status and the ideals connected to it that dictated the art of the plebeian townsmen to be beneath himself as a samurai, Chobunsai found himself drawn to ukiyo-e, the pictures of the floating world, and began to produce woodblock prints.
The usual subjects for this genre are prostitutes and kabuki actors, but Chobunsai chose a slightly different route. His early works include a set of 9 triptychs of a visually modern Tale of Genji, depicting girls in the most up-to-date fashions placed in settings related to this romantic 11th-century tale. The stylisation in these prints is extremely elegant and the restricted colours of beni-girai are utilised to great effect.
His most distinctive works depict courtesans against a yellow background, striving for elegance and refinement. In these aspects, Chobunsai’s willowy women vie with those of masters like Utamaro, Torii Kiyonaga and Kubo Shunman. Eventually, their bodies were elongated until the head comprised only one tenth of the height of the body.
Utamaro’s work had a huge client base of ordinary townsmen and wealthy merchants for support and he towered above other artists in his field of bijin-ga in the eyes of many. Eishi received maybe greater honour and recognition in his own lifetime than even that. His images might not have had as much emotional depth as Utamaro’s, but the noble elegance and refinement inherent to them represented the ideals of women in a samurai society. One of Chobunsai’s prints was even owned by the empress Gosakuramada.
In the last years of his life, Chobunsai seems to have ceased producing woodblock prints in favour of taking up painting again. Some of his notable works can be seen in book illustrations, such as ‘The Thiry-six Immortal Women Poets’.
1864 - 1905
Throughout merely 41 (1764-1905) years of life, Eisen Tomioka managed to develop an astounding career. He studied Japanese painting under Kobayashi Eitaku at the age of 18 and worked as a freelance artist.
Tomioka spent a successful stretch of his life creating independent works of art after his teacher’s death in 1890. Winning a silver medal at the first joint Japan Art Institute/Japan Painting Association exhibition, he became a judge for future exhibitions and flourished as an artist until his death.
1790 - 1848
Keisai Eisen was an artist who made important contributions to the genre of beauty prints during his lifetime, alongside artists such as Kunisada (Toyokuni III). This genre usually depicts courtesans and geisha in everyday life.
Although best known for his beauty prints, Eisen also produced a few great works in the landscape category. These include the ‘Eight Views of Edo’ (‘Edo Hakkei’) series, as well as ‘The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Road’ (‘Kiso Kaido Rokuju Kyuutsugi no Uchi’) series. The latter series was started by the artist and completed by Hiroshige.
Lastly, Eisen is known as the initiator of aizuri-e, which is a term that describes ukiyo-e that is printed only in shades of blue. This technique was popular in the 1830s and 1840s and has been employed by various artists, Hokusai among them.
Eisen started his apprenticeship in art early on, studying with the Kano painter Hakkeisai. He later was looked after by Kikugawa Eiji and became a pupil of Kikugawa Eiji’s son, Kikugawa Eizan who was his contemporary, through curious circumstances.
The feudal lord of the Hishu province wanted to own all prints produced by Kikugawa Eizan’s students and received a collection of them, in which Keisai Eisen’s prints were included. As a consequence, Eisen was then considered to be Eizan’s student, too.