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  • Thumbnail for Embarrassed woman with an outstanding debt
    Embarrassed woman with an outstanding debt by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    From the Myodensu Juroku Rikan (Sixteen Wonderful Considerations of Profit) series. The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After an increasing number of censorship laws were passed to limit the production of prints of famous courtesans, thought to corrupt the morals of the citizens of Japan, many artists turned to domestic images of mothers and daughters or women with servants and generalized pictures of the latest fashions in order to satisfy the demand for bijin-ga and skirt the laws.

  • Thumbnail for Woman wearing a fashionable kimono: The Chrysanthemum Festival
    Woman wearing a fashionable kimono: The Chrysanthemum Festival by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After restrictive censorship laws were passed in the 1840s, many artists turned to generalized pictures of the latest fashions and more domestic settings for their images of beauties.

  • Thumbnail for The General Amakasu Omi-no-kami Kagotoki riding a brown horse
    The General Amakasu Omi-no-kami Kagotoki riding a brown horse by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class.

  • Thumbnail for The Minister of the Right, Minamoto Yoritomo Setting thousands of Cranes Free in Front of Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, Kamakura to Receive the Blessing of a Pious and Virtuous Life
    The Minister of the Right, Minamoto Yoritomo Setting thousands of Cranes Free in Front of Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, Kamakura to Receive the Blessing of a Pious and Virtuous Life by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. This prints was most likely commissioned by the official named in its title or done to court the favor of said official. The long title and large size of the print were meant to denote the official’s importance.

  • Thumbnail for Street Drama, characters
    Street Drama, characters by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    Horizontal Japanese Ukiyo-e print; two panels from probable triptych; black and polychrome woodblock print on paper; various seals of Kuniyoshi, including “Ichiyosai†(a style name of Kuniyoshi). Artist is known for his depictions of heroic episodes in Japanese history. In his later work he tended to have a taste for the bizarre and the ghoulish. His work is influenced by European models, and in this work, the background has some degree of vanishing-point perspective. The works of Kuniyoshi are collected by many museums around the world, including Metropolitan of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Cleveland, The British Museum London, and the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City.

  • Thumbnail for Woman looking away from game (Go) board
    Woman looking away from game (Go) board by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After an increasing number of censorship laws were passed to limit the production of prints of famous courtesans, thought to corrupt the morals of the citizens of Japan, many artists turned to domestic images of mothers and daughters or women with servants and generalized pictures of the latest fashions in order to satisfy the demand for bijin-ga and skirt the laws.

  • Thumbnail for The Courtesan Shigeoka of Okamotoya Brothel
    The Courtesan Shigeoka of Okamotoya Brothel by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    From the Sugato no Hana Bijin Kurabe (Comparison of Beauties with Flowers) Series. The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After restrictive censorship laws were passed in the 1840s, many artists turned to generalized pictures of the latest fashions and more domestic settings for their images of beauties.

  • Thumbnail for Street Drama, full view
    Street Drama, full view by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    Horizontal Japanese Ukiyo-e print; two panels from probable triptych; black and polychrome woodblock print on paper; various seals of Kuniyoshi, including “Ichiyosai†(a style name of Kuniyoshi). Artist is known for his depictions of heroic episodes in Japanese history. In his later work he tended to have a taste for the bizarre and the ghoulish. His work is influenced by European models, and in this work, the background has some degree of vanishing-point perspective. The works of Kuniyoshi are collected by many museums around the world, including Metropolitan of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Cleveland, The British Museum London, and the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City.

  • Thumbnail for Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase)
    Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1789-1861)

    Showing the 34th or Wakana (Young Greens) Chapter of the Tale of Genji with the Actors Juro Sukenari and Kobayashi Asahira. Woodcut on paper, 14 x 10 inches (oban size). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is one of the classics of court literature and was often the subject of hand-scrolls (Yamato-e). An example of such a Yamato-e hand-scroll appears in the upper part of the print. The cover of the hand-scroll is folded over, so that its back faces us. A vertical title bar normally decorates the back of a hand-scroll. In this case, the title reads Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase.) The text that follows the title starts with the word 'wakana', identifying the section of the Tale of Genji in question as Chapters 35 and 36, that is New Herbs, Parts 1 and 2. Below the hand-scroll, there is a diagonal wall covered by branches. Beneath it, a censor's seal appears and then the signature of the artist Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi with his seal. Another long inscription follows to the right, and then the figures of two actors, identified by vertical cartouches as Kobayashi Asahira to the left and Juro Sukenari to the right. To the bottom left is the publisher's seal: hangen Ise-ichi. Prints such as this one are excellent evidence of how ukiyo-e relates to Yamato-e. They also show how ukiyo-e used the 'double-edged' line. For instance, consider the vertical contours of the two folds in the part of the blue belt on the left that hangs down beneath the tie. Note that the lines begin thick and quickly grow thinner. Focus on the thicker areas at the tops of the line. The right and left sides of these lines differ slightly. The right side creates a flat, square area at the top that shows how the cloth changes direction as it bends downward, whereas the left side is curved to reveal the way in which the material is continuous across the fold.

  • Thumbnail for The Warrior Usui Matagoro Slaying the Giant White Monkey (Usui Matagor? Hida sanchu utsu dai saru)
    The Warrior Usui Matagoro Slaying the Giant White Monkey (Usui Matagor? Hida sanchu utsu dai saru) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

    Woodblock print; ink, colors, and embossing on paper. From a group of prints featuring Japanese warriors. Publisher: Nishimuraya Yohachi. The image portrays an obscure, probably fictitious samurai-hero Usui Matagoro slaying a giant white monkey in the Hida mountain, apparently by order of his overlord, the warrior Minamoto (Kiso) Yoshinaka (1154-1184). This reference comes from a contemporary brochure about an annual festival in the town in Aichi (Kariya) that has a float of Matagoro slaying the monkey in it. The brochure identified Matagoro as one the four generals (shitenno) of Minamoto Yoshinaka, hero of the Heike monogatari. Curiously, standard, earlier and reliable sources list four others as Yoshinaka's generals. So it is unclear when the legend of Matagoro arose, though his presence in this print dates it to at least the early 19th century. Yoshinaka himself was a tragic hero immortalized in the Tales of the Heike, that described the figures on both sides of the battles that marked the most important turning point in Japanese history, the founding of the first shogunate (military dictatorship). Yoshinaka was killed in battle by his cousin Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1180), his rival for military control of Kyoto and the emperor. His defeat allowed Yoritomo to become Japan's first shogun in 1185. The twelfth-century struggles between the Taira and Minamoto clans mark a violent end to the long and largely peaceful Heian period (794-1185). The Minamoto or "Genji", were severely weakened in two "disturbances" known as the Hogen and Heiji era insurrections in the 1150s, power struggles at court. The Minamoto leaders were executed, but the lives of two young brothers, Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, were spared. For twenty years the Taira dominated the imperial court under the leadership of Kiyomori, encroaching on the traditional power the Fujiwara nobles wielded over the emperors. Different factions plotted against the Taira with little success until Yoritomo rose in revolt in 1180. Yoritomo, however, allowed the bulk of the fighting to be carried out by his relatives: Yoshinaka, Noriyori, and Yoshitune. The Taira were finally defeated at the naval battle at Dan-no-ura in 1185.