Tomioka, Eisen

Eisen Tomioka (1864-1905) was born Tomioka Hidetaro in Shinshu (modern Nagano prefecture), the oldest son of a retainer to the daimyo Matsushiro. At age 15, Eisen’s father passed away and the young artist set off to Tokyo to become a draftsman. In 1878, he worked for the office of the army general staff, yet shifted his focus to the study of painting in 1882. He continued his drafting job, but began to design kuchi-e (frontispieces of books, especially woodblock printed frontispieces for Japanese romance novels), under the tutelage of Kano painter Eitaku Kobayashi. Eisen became well known for his focus on the fashions and subtleties of the world around him; his sensitivity is reflected in his kuchi-e and sashi-e (front pieces for books and magazines) where his skills as a draftsman shown.

Following the death of his teacher in 1890, Eisen Tomioka left the world of draftsmanship and became an independent artist. From 1892 forward, he was an overwhelmingly popular artist of sashi-e (book or newspaper illustrations). From the Miyako shinbun, an eagerly read newspaper in Tokyo’s lowlands, to Shokokumin, another popular publication, the public hungered for Eisen’s illustrations. He received commissions for books and single-sheet prints as well, and purportedly made a decent living from his artwork. Like most kuchi-e the woodblock prints designed by Tomioka Eisen are kept mostly in landscape format and have a middle fold.