One of about fifty kacho-e (bird and flower prints) in the shikishiban (almost square) format designed by Tsukioka Kōgyo for the publisher Daikokuya (Matsuki Heikichi) around the turn of 20th century.
This print of fireflies is incredibly unique; an almost entirely black print with the darker silhouettes of grass leaves, small fireflies in fine detail light up the scene in their tiny spaces. Amazing in the delicate details and bokashi shading.
This is an evocative riverine scene of fireflies (hotaru) above reeds. The theme of fireflies is a traditional one, seen, for example. in Chapter 45, “Lady of the Bridge” (Hashihime), of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu (act. c. 1000). The events described in that chapter take place at a country villa in Uji, southeast of Kyoto.
In another interpretation, fireflies are said to represent the ghosts of the Tira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) warriors killed during the civil war of the late 12th century. These events are recounted in the medieval military epic, Heiki monogatari (Tale of the Heiki), which contains an account of a violent battle at Uji Bridge. These ghosts are believed to return to Uji Bridge each year, when they enact a hotaru kassen, or “firefly battle.”
Source: The Beauty of Silence: Nō and Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927), Robert Schaap & J. Thomas Rimer, Hotei Publishing, 2010, p. 152.
The Woodblock Prints
This woodblock print is in excellent condition. Gorgeous color, no discolorations at all. Clean verso (a little pencil writing on the bottom edge of the verso). No margins, but that seems to be the standard for many of these shikishiban prints.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Kōgyo (月岡 耕漁, Tsukioka Kōgyo), sometimes called Kōgyo Sakamaki (坂巻 耕漁, Sakamaki Kōgyo), was a Japanese artist known for his intricate and detailed works in the traditional Japanese painting style of ukiyo-e. He was a student and adopted son of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, and also studied with Ogata Gekkō. He studied under the painter and printmaker Kōno Bairei, who introduced him to the traditional techniques of ukiyo-e.
Kōgyo’s style was heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese theater form of kabuki and Noh. He specialized in creating prints and paintings of actors in costume and in dramatic poses, often surrounded by elaborate sets and scenery. His works were highly detailed and meticulously rendered, capturing the beauty and drama of the kabuki performances. Unlike most ukiyo-e prints, his works have an almost painterly quality and use gold and silver for the Noh costume embellishments. Kogyo’s woodblock prints required very skilled engravers and printers to produce.
Most of his career centered around pictures of Japanese noh theatre, either as large-scale paintings or colored woodblock prints. Many of the latter were published in series and sold as multi-volume sets. Some sets, such as Nōgaku zue, have been preserved as albums in their original bindings, including accordion-style bindings known as orihon, while other sets such as Nōga taikan, were issued in sewn bindings known as yamato toji.
Kōgyo was also known for his use of color, which he applied in bold, expressive brushstrokes. He often used bright, contrasting colors to create a sense of drama and energy in his works. He was also skilled in creating prints and paintings that captured the changing seasons and the beauty of the natural world.
Kōgyo’s contributions to the art world were widely recognized during his lifetime. He was a member of the prestigious Tokyo School of Fine Arts and was awarded numerous prizes and honors for his work. His prints and paintings were exhibited in galleries around the world, including the Tokyo National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
- “Kabuki: The Popular Stage of Japan” by Zoe Kincaid, Dover Publications (2012)
- “Kōgyo: The Japan of Kabuki” by Mikio Matsui, Kodansha International (1984)
- “Japanese Prints: From the Early Masters to the Modern” by James A. Michener, Tuttle Publishing (1995)