Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林 清親, September 10, 1847 – November 28, 1915) was a prominent Japanese artist and printmaker who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the Meiji period (1868-1912) art scene. He was known for his innovative approach to woodblock printmaking, blending traditional Japanese techniques with Western artistic styles. Kiyochika’s works often depicted modernization and social change in Japan during a time of rapid modernization and westernization.
Kobayashi Kiyochika was born in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), Japan, in 1847. He was the son of a samurai family, and his father was a retainer of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kiyochika initially trained as a traditional Japanese painter, studying under the guidance of prominent artists such as Kano Toshun and Kawanabe Kyosai. However, he later shifted his focus to woodblock printmaking, a popular medium for depicting everyday life and scenes of the changing world during the Meiji period.
Kiyochika’s prints were known for their innovative approach to composition, perspective, and color. He often incorporated Western artistic styles, such as the use of naturalistic shading and perspective, into his prints, which was a departure from the traditional ukiyo-e prints of the time. Kiyochika’s prints also featured bold and dramatic use of color, which added a sense of dynamism to his works. His unique artistic vision and technical expertise earned him widespread recognition and admiration. Kiyochika’s works often depicted the rapid modernization and social changes that were taking place in Japan during the Meiji period. His prints captured scenes of industrialization, urbanization, and the impact of Western influence on Japanese society. Kiyochika’s works provided a visual documentation of the changing landscape of Japan and its people during this pivotal period in its history. Kiyochika would continue to publish ukiyo-e prints for the rest of his life, but also worked extensively in illustrations and sketches for newspapers, magazines, and books. He also produced a number of prints depicting scenes from the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, collaborating with caption writer Koppi Dojin, penname of Nishimori Takeki (1861-1913), to contribute a number of illustrations to the propaganda series Nihon banzai hyakusen hyakushō (‘Long live Japan: 100 victories, 100 laughs’).
Kiyochika’s works gained widespread recognition both in Japan and internationally. He participated in various exhibitions and was awarded prestigious prizes for his prints. His works were highly regarded for their artistic merit, technical excellence, and social commentary. Kiyochika’s innovative approach to printmaking influenced many other artists of his time, and his works continue to inspire contemporary artists today. Despite his initial success, Kiyochika faced financial difficulties later in his life, and he had to sell many of his prints to make ends meet. However, his contributions to the art world and his impact on Japanese printmaking remained significant. Kiyochika’s works are considered important cultural assets and are preserved in many museums and collections worldwide. His legacy as a pioneering artist who blended traditional Japanese techniques with Western artistic styles continues to be celebrated, and his prints are highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts.
“Kobayashi Kiyochika: A Retrospective” by Henry D. Smith II and Amy Reigle Newland
“Kobayashi Kiyochika: Master of the Night” by Sebastian Izzard
“Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers, and Masterworks 1680-1900” by Andreas Marks