Kobayashi Kiyochika – Beauty of the Kan’ei Period, from the series Flower Patterns

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Additional information

Artist

Kiyochika, Kobayashi

Condition

(A) Very Fine Condition

Date

1880s-1900s

Movement

Ukiyo-e

Publisher

Takekawa Seikichi

Size

Oban (10"x15"), Triptych

Subjects

Story, Women / Geisha

All of the triptychs in this series (ten are known) feature the unusual composition of enlarged figures or busts of women against a distant background depicting customs of a particular historical era. The term ‘patterns’ moyo would seem to refer both to the elegant designs of the costumes on the foreground figures and to the background tableaux. The ‘flowers’ of the series “Flower Patterns” are the beautiful women themselves… The titles of the ten prints refer to specific eras of the Tokugawa period…
Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988. pp. 98-99.

This print, comprised of three vertical oban-sized prints in a triptych, represents the Kan’ei Period (1624-1644), and is quite rare, having only a few institutional holdings and rarely seen for sale in either retail or auction environments. The complete series can be viewed here. The series makes extensive usage of high-end techniques such as burnishing, embossing, and more, while using exquisite detail work in the hair, patterning, and bokashi shading.

Kiyochika is described as “…the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan” by Richard Lane in Images from the Floating World: The Japanese Print (Oxford University Press), and prints from this series illustrate the growing bonds between East and West at the time. In this incredibly unique series, Kiyochika portrays a single female figure, dressed in attire of the time, against a middle distance backdrop of lesser figures in a created scene. The “flowers” of the title are the centerfold women and their lavish costume; this was a popular method in the 1890’s for portraying the history of costume or hairstyle over the preceding ages.

The Woodblock Print

This oban triptych is in very fine condition with no issues to note. The triptych is separated (rare) with full margins intact for each of the prints. Solid color, unbacked, and no/minimal discolorations within the prints.

About the Artist

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.

Sources:

  • “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