Koryusai Isoda, Twelve Bouts in the Way of Love


Artist: Koryusai Isoda (1735–1790)
Title: Twelve Bouts in the Way of Love (色道取組十二番)
Date: c.1775
Size: 25.2 x 37 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Shunga (lit. 'springtime pictures') are graphic images, woodblock prints or ink paintings, picturing intimate, erotic activity. The images emphasise joyful facial expressions and feature excessive genitals of both male and female partners. Primarily, erotic pictures were used for viewing and sharing with close friends or partners as well as providing sexual education for young couples. Shunga depicted sexual pleasure or female sexuality as an important matter worth to be acknowledged and encouraged.

Koryusai Isoda

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 FormatOban (Horizontal)
ArtistKoryusai Isoda
SubjectShunga Erotica
Dimensions25.2 x 37 cm
Condition ReportBacking, soiling, wear, crease marks, minor foxing.