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  • Thumbnail for The peak of Satta Pass near Yui station
    The peak of Satta Pass near Yui station by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the first Tokaido series, Hoeido Tokaido edition. One of the most well known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. In this image, near station number sixteen, Hiroshige shows travelers about to get a majestic view of Mt. Fuji. Long a traditional subject matter in Kano style painting, views of Mt. Fuji were charged with national pride and an important sense of place to the Japanese. The artist combines this ancient tradition with a far more popular and temporal sense of place.

  • Thumbnail for The actor Iwai Kumesaburo VI as Shizuka-gozen
    The actor Iwai Kumesaburo VI as Shizuka-gozen by Utagawa Toyokuni I

    A student of Toyoharu, Toyokuni became the head of the Utagawa school after his master’s death. At eighteen the artist published his first works, a series of illustrations of Japanese folk tales and thereafter he devoted much of his early career to the creation of bijin-ga. He achieved the greatest renown, however, for actor prints in which he was one of the first to show the full bodies and the costumes of his subjects. Like his contemporary Kitagawa Utamaro, Toyokuni was punished for the content of some of his prints, at one point being sentenced to fifty days in hand-shackles for his series Ehon Taiheki (The Taihei Romance Illustrated). By the 1820s Toyokuni’s name had become synonymous with fine prints of actors and their roles. A tragic female character in numerous Kabuki plays, Shizuka-gozen offered Kabuki actors a chance to portray the gamut of emotions from love to mourning and demanded a great degree of agility and grace as she danced before the gods and her captors.

  • Thumbnail for The Courtesan Hanamurasaki of Tamaya Brothel and her Kamuro (girl attendant)
    The Courtesan Hanamurasaki of Tamaya Brothel and her Kamuro (girl attendant) by unknown

    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 Morning mist at Mishima Station
    Morning mist at Mishima Station by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the Fifty-three Stations of the first Tokaido series in the Hoeido Tokaido edition and one of the most well-known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. This image was originally a part of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. It along with 36 others came to the Wriston from a benefactor who received them from Wright in lieu of a payment for printing services. Many of the prints have Wright’s handwritten notations in the margins. Though many of the Wright works in our collection are of lesser quality, the images serve as an example of the interest in Asian art that so informed Wright’s architecture. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. One of Hiroshige’s most famous images “Morning Mist at Mishima Station†shows the artist’s interest in the ever-changing effects of light, dark and atmosphere. This was station number eleven.

  • Thumbnail for The courtesan Tamagoto of Tamaya Brothel
    The courtesan Tamagoto of Tamaya Brothel by Toyoshige Toyokuni II

    Toyoshige is considered a somewhat mediocre pupil of Toyokuni I but as the artist’s son-in-law he became the head of the Utagawa school after Toyokuni I died. This infuriated Kunisada, who later became the head of the Utagawa school and he had Toyoshige’s name removed from the family roster.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 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 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 Shinmachi Bridge at Hodogaya Station 1833
    Shinmachi Bridge at Hodogaya Station 1833 by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the Fifty-three Stations of the first Tokaido series from the Hoeido Tokaido edition. One of the most well-known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. This image was originally a part of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. It along with 36 others came to the Wriston from a benefactor who received them from Wright in lieu of a payment for printing services. Many of the prints have Wright’s handwritten notations in the margins. Though many of the Wright works in our collection are of lesser quality, the images serve as an example of the interest in Asian art that so informed Wright’s architecture. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. This was station number four.

  • Thumbnail for Snow at Yamanaka Village, near Fujiwaka
    Snow at Yamanaka Village, near Fujiwaka by Utagawa Hiroshige

    One of the most well known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. Often palaces decorated with traditional Kano painting would have rooms devoted to each season of the year. Though appealing to a far less sophisticated audience, Hiroshige continued an interest in the seasons frequently depicting particular stations along the Tokaido in a variety of climactic conditions. Fujikawa was station number thirty-seven. Though innovative in both his use of a more western perspective and in many of his subject matters, Hiroshige, nevertheless, evinced a careful understanding of Japanese landscape traditions.

  • Thumbnail for The courtesan Yaegiri of the Oginoya Brothel and a portrait of the priest Jakuren
    The courtesan Yaegiri of the Oginoya Brothel and a portrait of the priest Jakuren by Utagawa Hiroshige

    One of the most well known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. Jakuren was a poet and a Buddhist monk was instrumental in compiling the Shinkokinshu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Waka), around 1205 – 1206, which included thirty-five of his own works. The poem card at the top of this image depicts an image of the poet and his poem which was number eighty-seven in the well-known Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems by 100 Artists), a collection of tanka (five line poems of 31 syllables, arranged as 5, 7, 5, 7, 7).

  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura by Utagawa Kuniteru

    Studied first under Kunisada and later with Toyokuni, took the name Kuniteru around 1844. Kana-dehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Included here are printed depictions of some of the particularly dramatic acts of the play. Act III: Enya-hangan draws his sword in reaction to the insults of Moronao, a capital offence resulting in a death sentence.

  • 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 Book illustration: Avame (Iris or Mershinskia)
    Book illustration: Avame (Iris or Mershinskia) by Kuwagata Keisai

    Practiced both painting and printmaking, recognized for his “realistic†depictions of Edo environs and culture. Some of the earliest uses of woodblock printing in Japan were for the recording of objects and events, images of which were bound together into record books and encyclopedias. With a renewed interest in science brought about by increased exposure to the west many artists used the skills learned in depicting ceremonial and symbolic flora and fauna to create catalogues and books of native flora and fauna. These images bear only the artist’s signature and do not include publishers’ and cravers’ marks because the prints were not intended to be sold on the print market but rather bound into a book.

  • Thumbnail for Two women with infant
    Two women with infant by Utamaro Kitagawa

    The dominant ukiyo-e artist of the late 18th century, Utamaro is as famous for his legendary life as for his unsurpassed images of courtesans and famous beauties of his day. 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 plum garden in Kameido
    The plum garden in Kameido by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series. One of the most well known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. Though probably most known for his numerous editions of images from the Tokaido, Hiroshige also produced a number of prints and editions of other well known landscape sites. Among them were Famous Places of the Eastern Capital, Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces, and Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, among others. These few were a modern interpretation of a much earlier tradition in which Chinese artists and poets would paint and write about important locales. As in his Tokaido prints, however Hiroshige imbued these modern views with a sense of a specific contemporary time and place often employing a more western perspective and showing modern day viewers inhabiting the scene.

  • 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 Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the Palace in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the Palace in Kamakura by Keisei Eisen

    From the Kanadehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) series. Keisei Eisen was born in Edo, the son of a calligraphy artist. He was apprenticed to Kikugawa Eizan and studied traditional painting before becoming a printmaker. Throughout his career, Eisen’s work was productive and varied. Book illustrations and prints were his first commissioned works. Early on, he achieved lasting fame for his bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), and both contributed to and edited the Ukiyo-e ruiko (History of Prints of the Floating World) one of the few surviving sources of information-rich material on printmaking art and artists in Japan. At times, he struck partnerships with other artists of his age, such as his collaboration with Hiroshige, which resulted in a series of landscape prints entitled The Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway. Eisen also released many surimono (privately issued prints), shunga (erotic prints), and some landscape pieces. In addition to his career as a printmaker, Eisen pursued other sources of income. A self-described hard-drinker who humbly titled his version of Japanese print history Mumeio zhuihitsu (Essays by a Nameless Old Man), Eisen was also the manager and proprietor of a brothel for a time. Today, however he is most famous for his portrayals of the beauties of old Japan. Kana-dehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Enya-hangan draws his sword in reaction to the insults of Moronao, a capital offence resulting in a death sentence.

  • Thumbnail for Ferry boats on the Tenryu River at Mitsuke Station
    Ferry boats on the Tenryu River at Mitsuke Station by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the Tsutakichi series. One of the most well-known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. This image was originally a part of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. It along with 36 others came to the Wriston from a benefactor who received them from Wright in lieu of a payment for printing services. Many of the prints have Wright’s handwritten notations in the margins. Though many of the Wright works in our collection are of lesser quality, the images serve as an example of the interest in Asian art that so informed Wright’s architecture. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe.This image represents station number twenty-nine. Though often fordable by foot, during heavy rains the Tenryu river was deep and swift and many boatmen plied their trade ferrying travelers across the river.

  • Thumbnail for Daybreak at Nihonbashi Bridge
    Daybreak at Nihonbashi Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido series in the Tsutakichi Tokaido edition. One of the most well known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. Though Hiroshige’s most famous series was called “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido,†most editions actually included fifty-five images as the artist executed both the beginning point of the traditional journey, Nihonbashi bridge in Edo, and the terminus of the highway in Kyoto. Here the famous bridge in the center of Edo is bathed in early morning light, representing both a spiritual and a literal beginning of a long journey.

  • Thumbnail for Scene at the precincts of Shinmei Shrine, Shiba
    Scene at the precincts of Shinmei Shrine, Shiba by Utagawa Hiroshige

    From the Famous Places of Edo series and one of the most well-known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. This image was originally a part of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. It along with 36 others came to the Wriston from a benefactor who received them from Wright in lieu of a payment for printing services. Many of the prints have Wright’s handwritten notations in the margins. Though many of the Wright works in our collection are of lesser quality, the images serve as an example of the interest in Asian art that so informed Wright’s architecture. Though probably most known for his numerous editions of images from the Tokaido, Hiroshige also produced a number of prints and editions of other well-known landscape sites. Among them were Famous Places of the Eastern Capital, Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces, and Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, among others. These series were a modern interpretation of a much earlier tradition in which Chinese artists and poets would paint and write about important locales. As in his Tokaido prints, however Hiroshige imbued these modern views with a sense of a specific contemporary time and place often employing a more western perspective and showing modern day viewers inhabiting the scene.

  • 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 Goyu Station: A wayside teahouse and travelers
    Goyu Station: A wayside teahouse and travelers by Utagawa Hiroshige

    One of the most well-known 19th century ukiyo-e artists, famous for his landscape views, particularly his images of the Tokaido. As the busiest highway in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Tokaido offered numerous chances to experience a variety of social classes and day-to-day activities. Numerous images of this highway were created during the Edo period, some in singular views and others in series, the most famous of which are Hiroshige’s numerous editions. The images depicted the commercial activity along the road and famous views seen on the journey. Hiroshige, in particular, also chose many of the views based on varying times of year and the weather conditions that offered an ever-changing impression of the landscape. Greatly influenced by his teacher Utagawa Toyoharu, Hiroshige often employed perspective views rather than the more traditional stacked and flattened views of the landscape found in the Kano school of painting. This slightly more western view helps to explain his popularity among 19th century artists in Europe. This was station thirty-five along the Tokaido. A whole new economy sprang up along the Tokaido when the Shogun made it a requirement for noblemen to make annual trips between the Shogun’s castle in Edo and the Emperor’s palace in Kyoto. Strategically placed inns, teahouses, and other shops offered places of rest and entertainment along the almost 300 mile long route.

  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act IV: Oboshi Yuranosuke display's Hangan's sword
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act IV: Oboshi Yuranosuke display's Hangan's sword by Eisen Keisai

    From the Kanadehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) series. Keisei Eisen was born in Edo, the son of a calligraphy artist. He was apprenticed to Kikugawa Eizan and studied traditional painting before becoming a printmaker. Throughout his career, Eisen’s work was productive and varied. Book illustrations and prints were his first commissioned works. Early on, he achieved lasting fame for his bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), and both contributed to and edited the Ukiyo-e ruiko (History of Prints of the Floating World) one of the few surviving sources of information-rich material on printmaking art and artists in Japan. At times, he struck partnerships with other artists of his age, such as his collaboration with Hiroshige, which resulted in a series of landscape prints entitled The Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway. Eisen also released many surimono (privately issued prints), shunga (erotic prints), and some landscape pieces. In addition to his career as a printmaker, Eisen pursued other sources of income. A self-described hard-drinker who humbly titled his version of Japanese print history Mumeio zhuihitsu (Essays by a Nameless Old Man), Eisen was also the manager and proprietor of a brothel for a time. Today, however he is most famous for his portrayals of the beauties of old Japan. Kana-dehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Act IV: Enya-hangan commits hara-kiri, while his loyal retainer Yuranosuke vows revenge on Moronao

  • Thumbnail for A courtesan reading a latter beside a paper lantern-parody of Omu Komachi (Parrot Komachi)
    A courtesan reading a latter beside a paper lantern-parody of Omu Komachi (Parrot Komachi) by Eisen Keisai

    From the Nana Komachi (Seven Komachi) series. Keisei Eisen was born in Edo, the son of a calligraphy artist. He was apprenticed to Kikugawa Eizan and studied traditional painting before becoming a printmaker. Throughout his career, Eisen’s work was productive and varied. Book illustrations and prints were his first commissioned works. Early on, he achieved lasting fame for his bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), and both contributed to and edited the Ukiyo-e ruiko (History of Prints of the Floating World) one of the few surviving sources of information-rich material on printmaking art and artists in Japan. At times, he struck partnerships with other artists of his age, such as his collaboration with Hiroshige, which resulted in a series of landscape prints entitled The Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway. Eisen also released many surimono (privately issued prints), shunga (erotic prints), and some landscape pieces. In addition to his career as a printmaker, Eisen pursued other sources of income. A self-described hard-drinker who humbly titled his version of Japanese print history Mumeio zhuihitsu (Essays by a Nameless Old Man), Eisen was also the manager and proprietor of a brothel for a time. Today, however he is most famous for his portrayals of the beauties of old Japan. The traditional Nana Komachi was a group of stories concerning the mid ninth century poetess Ono no Komachi, one of the six poetic geniuses and thirty-six immortal poets. During the Edo period, however Komachi became a sobriquet of many beautiful women and nana komachi was also used for other bijin-ga series of a variety of seven beauties.

  • Thumbnail for The Courtesan Miyakoji of Tamaya Brothel and her Attendants in Edo-cho Itchome Street
    The Courtesan Miyakoji of Tamaya Brothel and her Attendants in Edo-cho Itchome Street by Kikugawa Eizan

    From the Seiro Meikun Zoroi (A Set of Famous Courtesans from Green Houses) series. Though he studied with his father, many consider Kikugawa Eizan to be the best of the late followers of Utamaro. Known for his highly elegant (furyu) bijin-ga the artist continued a stylish elegance that many of his contemporaries eschewed for a more earthy realism. Curiously, he all but ceased ukiyo-e printmaking in the 1820s, a full forty years before his death. 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.