CHAPTER 6: ARTISTS OF THE
UKIYOYE SCHOOL (continued)
Toyokuni to Kiosai
UTAMARO'S principal rival, particularly towards the end of his (Utamaro's) career, was TOYOKUNI (1769-1825), the chief pupil of Toyoharu. Toyokuni's early work consists mostly of studies of women, thus following the style of Utamaro, an example of which is illustrated at Plate 30, page 182. After the death of the latter he turned his attention to actors, and at one time was looked upon as the actor-painter of Japan. His best work is considered his series of actor-portraits in hoso-ye form, issued about 1800, but all his early work is good. After Utamaro's death, however, he confined himself to large actor-portraits almost entirely, and from this date his work began to deteriorate, his actors eventually becoming little better than caricatures, with their exaggerated features, squint-eyed, long-nosed, and wry-mouthed, exaggerations which were carried to repulsiveness by his pupil Kunisada.
Toyokuni's powers as the designer of actor-prints will be more fully considered in a later chapter dealing with actor-portraits in general as a subject of illustration.
Toyokuni's output was prolific; but this designation chiefly applies to his later work, of which much survives to-day. His early work is comparatively rare, and may be distinguished, apart from the better quality of the work, both in drawing and colouring, by the signature being more carefully written, and in smaller characters. At Plate C, page 32, are reproduced examples of Toyokuni's work at his best, showing that it could be amongst the finest designed by the Ukiyoye school. Illustration No. 4 shows the small, carefully written script of his early signature, combined with graceful and natural figures.
Attention has already been drawn to the various artists following Toyokuni who adopted his name, and the way in which they may be distinguished both from one another and from Toyokuni himself.
Toyokuni's prints being fairly numerous, prices range from thirty or forty shillings or so for relatively unimportant single sheets, to £7 or £10 for good examples of his early work, up to £40 or £60 for particularly fine triptychs. A rare pentaptych, or five-sheet print, will, perhaps, be worth £80 to £100.
TOYOHIRO (1763-1828) was a fellow-pupil of Toyokuni. His chief claim to fame lies in his having trained the great Hiroshige; as an artist he was far out-distanced in popularity by the much more productive Toyokuni. While the latter devoted himself to actors, Toyohiro followed his master's preference for landscapes; but owing to his comparatively small output, his prints are rare.
Toyohiro rarely, if ever, drew actors or courtesans; these he left to Toyokuni, a fact which may account for the latter's great popularity, and, in consequence, large output to meet it. Such figure-studies as Toyohiro drew are aristocratic ladies, and the scarcity of his prints is very likely due to his unwillingness to descend to depicting actors and courtesans, subjects he considered beneath him. His work is of a quality equal to, if it does not surpass, that of Toyokuni at his best, while at the same time he did not allow it to deteriorate in the manner that the latter did in his efforts to cope with the demand for his prints. Toyohiro was better satisfied to attain a high artistic level and keep it so, rather than lower it for the sake of gaining cheap popularity. The result is his figure-studies have a charm and gracefulness which put him almost, if not quite, on a level with Yeishi or Utamaro, while his colours are beautifully soft and harmonious.
In the early days of their career (c. 1800), Toyohiro and Toyokuni collaborated in certain series. Plate 33
(No. 3), page 192, is a sheet of a triptych showing two ladies and their children watching men at archery practice,
from a rare set entitled
Twelve Months by Two Artists, this one being for the third month, by Toyohiro.
Another contemporary with Utamaro, and an artist whose work is of charming delicacy and refinement, was Hosoda YEISHI (also used the name Chobunsai), who worked between the years 1780 and 1800; died 1829. After 1800 he forsook print-designing and reverted to painting again. He is another of the few instances known of a print-designer not being of the artisan class, Yeishi being a samurai who first studied painting in the aristocratic Kano school, with the result that his prints are more delicate and refined than were those of most contemporary and later Ukiyoye artists. His figures, also, are more natural than those of Utamaro and do not exhibit the latter's exaggerations.
Many of his prints have a beautiful pale yellow background, and the collector is lucky who comes across one of these prints to-day in all its pristine loveliness. Unfortunately, this pale yellow is liable to fade with age, unless in the past it has been carefully kept from over-exposure to the light.
The subjects he portrayed are beautifully attired ladies, in various light occupations (see Plate 2, page 38).
He also did a series of small, almost square prints, about the same size as a surimono, also with a pale yellow background, depicting the popular courtesans of the day on parade with their attendants. He like-wise designed some remarkably fine triptychs, examples of which number amongst a collector's greatest print treasures, and in consequence are rarely in the market. Such, needless to say, fetch very high prices.
Lesser prints by Yeishi fetch about the same price as similar examples by Utamaro, but as his output was considerably less the average value of his better prints is higher. But even a relatively minor print by Yeishi has so much charm that an opportunity to obtain an example should not be missed.
Modern reproductions of prints by Yeishi are very common, particularly of one by him, full size, showing a tea-house beauty, Kisegawa of Matsubaya, seated, and facing to the right, looking at a partly unrolled makimono; on the background is a small panel with flower decoration. The collector should carefully examine all prints signed Yeishi.
Yeishi was the founder of a sub-school, the Hosoda school, and had a large number of pupils, of whom the most important were YEISHO, YEISUI, YEISHIN, YEIRI, and GOKYO, all of whose work is rarer, in some instances considerably rarer, than that of Yeishi himself.
Hosoda Yeiri must not be confused with Rekisentei Yeiri, pupil of Hasegawa Mitsunobu, who worked about 1800.
The former often signed himself
Yeiri, pupil of Yeishi, to avoid this confusion, though Rekisentei Yeiri
makes a further difference by using another character for writing the
Yei of his name.
YEIZAN (Kikugawa) has already been referred to as a rival and imitator of Utamaro, after whose death he had practically a free field in his portraits of popular beauties, which had a great vogue, with the result that his prints are readily obtained and generally in good condition. He was a pupil at first of his father, Kikugawa Yeiji, a maker of artificial flowers, who painted in the Kano style. Yeizan worked as a colour-print artist between the years 1804 and 1829. His large heads, after the style of Utamaro, are fine, but his later work, when he took to copying Kunisada's full-length figures of courtesans, is not so good. They tend to become exaggerated as Kunisada's were, and overloaded with design, and are the work of an artist who became a pure copyist, without much originality of his own to work upon, one print being very like another. His early actor-prints are scarce.
Owing, however, to the fact that he ceased designing colour-prints about 1829, after which date he turned his attention to literature and the illustrating of books, his prints rarely exhibit the crude colouring of Kunisada's later work. Taken all round, Yeizan deserves a higher place amongst Ukiyoye artists than he is generally given. He may have followed other artists and had little originality of his own, but his early designs are boldly drawn, graceful, and his colours are good.
Many of Yeizan's prints are seal-dated, and any up to 1810 are good, but his late work (c. 1820-1829) follows too much the exaggerated and over-dressed figures of Kunisada.
The print by Yeizan here reproduced at Plate 4 (No. 1) is of particular interest, apart from being one of the earliest examples of his work, for the following reason.
Shojo KIOSAI (1831-1889), the last artist of the old school of print-designers, has left a book, complete in
four volumes, called Kiosai Gwadan,
Pictorial Life of Kiosai, which contains an index to all
the principal artists of Ukiyoye, wherein are reproduced characteristic studies from their drawings,
showing their particular style. The various scripts in which they wrote their signature at different periods
of their career are also given, so that by comparing any print with the reproduction in this book, its approximate
date can be fixed by the signature thereon. Yeizan is represented by the head and shoulders of the figure-study
in this print, so that it must be considered a particularly good example of his work.
Another fine example, showing a geisha and her maid in a shower of rain, one of a series of fashion plates, is illustrated at Plate 33, page 192, while a good study in the style of Utamaro is reproduced at Plate 3, Illustration 2 ; this is dated 5th month, 1808.
Another artist of this period, somewhat similar in name, is Keisai YEISEN (1789-1851). Von Seidlitz wrongly states him to be a pupil of Yeizan, owing perhaps to the fact that he lived with Yeizan's father, Yeiji. Yeisen, however, was a pupil of Kano Hakukeisai, the last half of whose name he took for his first, Keisai. Also the styles, both in colour and design, of Yeizan and Yeisen differ too much for the latter to have been a pupil of the former. Again, Yeisen was a more original designer than Yeizan, and did both landscapes and figure studies, whereas Yeizan confined himself to the drawing of women, though he often used a landscape background in his triptychs. Yeisen's best work was done in landscape, both as single sheets, which, however, are rare, and as collaborator with Hiroshige in the series of Plate 13, page 100. (See Note 2, page 57.)
A fine snow scene by him is illustrated at Plate 8, No. 3, page 76, showing the Asakusa Temple, Yedo, under a fall of snow; publisher's sign of Moriji; signed Yeisen.
Yeisen's masterpieces are two very fine kakemono-ye, worthy to rank with similar masterpieces of Hokusai and Hiroshige; one a moonlight scene, with a bridge across a stream in the foreground, and behind high mountain peaks - a fit companion to Hiroshige's Note 1, page 57, and Plate 61, page 340.)
Other good prints by him in landscape are his series of waterfalls, in imitation of the set by Hokusai; also single
Yedo Views (oblong), like Hiroshige's similar views. All these are rare in varying degree.
His figure-studies, which are fairly numerous and not difficult to obtain, are the output of his later years.
The collector should not miss the opportunity of picking up good copies of his blue prints, in which the whole
design is printed in varying shades of blue; their effect is very pleasing, even though the actual drawing may
not always be of a very high order. An unusually good example is illustrated at Plate 4A.
Blue prints are not common; besides Yeisen, they were designed by Kuniyoshi (rare), Kunisada, Kuniyasu, Yeizan, and Hiroshige II (landscape views).
Yeisen also designed some good surimono. He signs himself in full Keisai Yeisen, or Yeisen only, or Keisai only. In the latter case he should not be confused with Keisu, a designer of surimono and pupil of Hokkei, whose full name is Kiko Keisu. (See Note 2, page 57.)
KIYOMINE (1786-1868) was the fifth and practically the last master of the Torii school. He was a pupil of the great Kiyonaga; his prints are rare and much prized for their gracefulness and pleasant colouring. (See Plate 4, Illustration 4.)
The print by him here reproduced at Plate 4 (No. 3) is remarkable in that the outlines of the face, hand, and
wrist are printed in pink, the colour of the sake cup, and is called nikuzuri, meaning
flesh-colour. Another print from the same series is illustrated in Strange's Japanese Illustration,
at page 28. Such printing is extremely rare, and is found only in a very few prints by Kiyomine and Utamaro.
We now come to the numerous pupils and followers of Toyokuni, forming the Utagawa school. Of this school, KUNISADA (1785-1865) is by far the best known, on account of his enormous productivity, his total output probably equalling, if it did not exceed, that of any two other figure-artists combined. It even probably exceeded the output of Hiroshige in the number of individual designs, prolific as was the latter. In fact, so prodigious was the number of his prints towards the end of his career, that Kunisada did no more than the first outline drawing of a print, leaving his pupils to carry out the colour-scheme, and exercising no supervision over his printers. The result is seen in a complexity of design, meaningless elaboration of detail, crudeness of colouring, and often bad register in printing, which is so characteristic of a large number of prints bearing his signature, particularly in those signed with his later name of Toyokuni. In fact, the great majority of his innumerable actor-portraits of this period are little better than caricatures, with all the later eccentricities and exaggerations of his master, Toyokuni, magnified tenfold, though occasionally one may come across a really fine design like that illustrated at Plate 37, page 228.
His best prints are his early landscapes, but these are very rare. Two fine examples are here illustrated at
Plate 5, both with his early signature of Kochoro Kunisada. Illustration No. 1 shows that in rendering atmospheric
effect he could rival Hiroshige at his best. Illustration No. 2 is a design of combined landscape and figure-studies,
the landscape being printed in shades of blue, the ripples of the water rendered in gauffrage, as is also
the design on Narihira's dress. The scene is laid on part of the
Eight-parts Bridge, Province of Mikawa
(vide Hokusai's drawing of same bridge, Plate 18, page 122), which crosses an iris pond in a series
of zigzag platforms. A lady is plucking the blooms while Narihira, the poet, accompanied by a lady sword-bearer,
Kunisada's early actor-portraits closely follow the style of Toyokuni, but the great bulk of his work in this direction is of little or no importance, and clearly reveals the decline into which the Ukiyoye school had fallen by this time.
His one really fine design in figure-studies is his portrait of Hiroshige,
which we illustrate at Plate 5, Illustration 3, and which was done in the year of the latter's death (1858),
and on it is a long and interesting inscription, in which occurs the following passage:
At the present time,
Hiroshige, Kunisada, and Kuniyoshi are considered the three great masters of Ukiyoye; no others equal
them. Hiroshige was especially noted for landscape.
Hiroshige is represented seated, dressed in a noshime, a robe worn only by samurai on special occasions, on which is his diamond monogram Hiro, often used by him on prints as a seal below his signature, or introduced into the design. (See Note 3, page 57.)
The complete inscription (written by Temmei Rojin, a famous poet and close friend of Hiroshige) is too long to give here, but a translation of it will be found in the B.M. Catalogue at page 499 ; the following passage therefrom states the actual date of his death: ,q>on the sixth day of Chrysanthemum (i.e. September) month (9th) having made a will disposing of all his affairs and written a farewell verse, he started on the mountain road of death, and retired into the forest of the cranes. It is a great loss. Above Kunisada's signature (Toyokuni) is the date-seal, Horse 9, corresponding to the date given in the inscription.
Near the lower left margin is the publisher's seal of Uwoyei, the publisher of the
sky) [not Isso as given in B.M. Catalogue],
A long trail of smoke towards the sky,
in allusion to the cremation of Hiroshige's remains.
This print is very uncommon. As, however, it was issued by the same publisher as the
Kunisada often collaborated with Hiroshige in the design of triptychs, in which the landscape is done by the latter and the large figures by Kunisada. Or again, the left and right panels will be the work of one artist and the centre panel that of the other.
He also plagiarized Hiroshige's work in a set (rare) of half-block Tokaido views copied, in most cases, almost
line for line from the former's early series published by Hoyeido, with a large figure, generally of a geisha
or peasant woman in the foreground, separated from the main view by conventional clouds. Some of the plates are
To Order, as if to throw the blame for this plagiarism of Hiroshige's work upon his publisher,
Sanoki (see Plate 12, page 96).
Kunisada, solely by reason of the quantity of his work, was considered the head of Toyokuni's school, as is shown by his eventually appropriating to himself that name; but Utagawa KUNIYOSHI (1798-1861) was easily the better artist. He did some good landscapes, many deserving to rank with those of Hiroshige, particularly in a set of Tokaido views (see Plate 12), wherein several stations are shown on the one view, while his figure-studies are strongly drawn, often with a humorous touch. His colours are rarely the crude and hideous colours of Kunisada, while he frequently makes a very effective use of masses of black.
A fine, but at the same time rare, set of prints by Kuniyoshi depicts incidents from the life of the priest Nichiren (vide Chapter XXXV for details) in ten scenes. Von Seidlitz quotes one scene, Nichiren on a Pilgrimage in the Snow, the best print of this series, as a single print, being apparently unaware that it forms one of a set; the set, at least, is not mentioned by him amongst the list of Kuniyoshi's works.
Another celebrated series is his set of scenes depicting the twenty-four paragons of filial piety, which are remarkable for their curious application of European pictorial ideas to a Chinese subject, but which detracts from them as works of art.
Neither of the above series are at all common, but examples of Kuniyoshi's prints are not difficult to pick up.
Kuniyoshi's most significant work, however, is his various series of prints illustrating heroic episodes
in Japanese history, also legends, stories, and dramatic scenes; he was not very successful with actor-portraiture.
It was the publication of his
Chinese Heroes (Suikoden) series which first brought him fame in his
Toyokuni's other pupils are mostly too unimportant to be mentioned individually. Five, however, who died before the art of the colour-printer was so far advanced towards decay, and before crude aniline colours became the custom, deserve mention, because their work is, for these reasons, superior to their contemporaries.
KUNIMASA I (1772-1810), whose portraits of actors are very good, and who had a reputation even higher than that of his master. His prints are very uncommon. An example of his work is reproduced at Plate 36, page 224.
KUNINAGA, who died about 1820; work uncommon.
KUNINAO (w. 1820), who first studied art in the Chinese school, after-wards becoming a pupil of Toyokuni. His prints are rare, and are at times notable for the grace and elegance of their figures.
KUNIMARU (1787-1817), whose figure-studies are of unusual merit, judging from the very few prints by him, which are rare, that have come under observation.
KUNIYASU (1800-1830), whose prints are also uncommon and are much above the average of his fellow-pupils, his colours being well chosen. He also designed surimono. His prints comprise both figure-studies, landscapes, and seascapes (see Plate 6).
The numerous followers of Kunisada and Kuniyoshi need not detain us long. Those of the former, together with pupils of Hokusai, formed what is known as the Osaka school, which came into existence at Osaka about 1825. Previous to this date, the art of the colour-printer was solely confined to Yedo, where it originated.
SADAHIDE (c. 1840), one of the best of Kunisada's pupils, designed landscapes in the style of Hiroshige, and also battle-scenes. His prints are good of their kind, considering the lateness of the period at which he worked (see Plate H and Plates 54 and 55).
SADAMASU (w. 1830-1850) also worked in style of Hiroshige. His work is not common, and is distinctly above the average of the period. A good fan-print by him is reproduced at Plate 6.
Hasegawa SADANOBU (c. 1840) designed both actor-prints and landscapes, but in the case of the latter appears
to have been not satisfied with merely following the style of Hiroshige, but needs must copy him line for line.
Thus he copied Hiroshige's half-block set of
Views of Lake Biwa practically line for line; one scene of
this set is illustrated in the handbook to the Japanese Print Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum,
South Kensington; also his
Provinces series, and others in half-block size.
Kuniyoshi's pupils continued to work at Yedo. Of these YOSHITORA (w. 185o) was, perhaps, one of the best, his colours being as a rule less offensive than is generally the case with prints of this date. He designed figure-studies, landscapes, and battle-scenes.
YOSHITOSHI (w. 1860-1890) was another pupil, already mentioned above, who was superior to the general run of contemporary artists.
The pupils of Kunisada may be recognized by the adoption of the second half of their master's name,
first of their own, e.g. Sada-hide, Sada-nobu; though some adopted the first part
Kuni, e.g. Kuni-chika,
Kuni-hisa, Kuni-mori, and others. Kunimori also signed himself Horai (or Kochoyen) Harumasu; his signature of
Kunimori being a later one, adopted on his joining the school of Kunisada. In the same way Kuniyoshi's pupils
all begin their names with the prefix
Yoshi, e.g. Yoshi-tora, Yoshi-kuni, Yoshi-kazu.
Two independent artists remain to be mentioned before turning to the landscape artists, Hokusai and Hiroshige, and their pupils. Shojo KIOSAI (1831-1889), whose studies of crows are remarkable, and who may be reckoned as the last of the old school of print-designers of the first rank. Had he lived earlier, before the advent of aniline colours, his prints, which are not common, would have been esteemed even higher; but his work, unfortunately, suffers from the inferior colours used.
The other artist is SUGAKUDO, who worked about 1858, and who has designed an excellent series of bird
and flower studies, in forty-eight plates, twelve being allotted to each season of the year, which number
amongst a collector's favourite examples in this subject. The best print in this series is No. 10,
representing a large red parrot. The title of the series is Sho Utsushi Shi-ju-hachi (48)
Exact Representations of Forty-eight Hawks (i.e. birds). (See Plate 6.)
Each plate is dated in the margin with the seal for the sheep year, equivalent to 1859, but the title-page is dated a year later, when the series was completed. Below the date-seal is the number of the plate in the series, and below that again the publisher's seal of Koyeido, which will be found reproduced in the list of publisher's signs in Appendix IV. Koyeido is also known as Tsutaya Kichizo, who must not be confused with Tsutaya Juzaburo. Both used the same seal, a leaf surmounted with a triple-peaked Fuji, but Kichizo inserts a small circle in the centre peak, which is not found in Juzaburo's seal. Kichizo's is the seal found on Hiroshige's prints (e.g. upright Tokaido series), which are almost invariably attributed to the wrong publisher. Juzaburo died 1797.