In November 1896, Kobayashi Kiyochika began a new series of landscape prints depicting scenic spots throughout Japan. With the exception of the Tokyo triptychs issued earlier the same year, it was his first sustained effort at landscape since “One Hundred Views of Musashi” of 1884-1885. The publisher was Matsuki Heikichi V whose father had launched Kiyochika’s career twenty years earlier but whose firm had not published any of Kiyochika’s landscape work since the “Shizuoka views” of 1880-1881.
Entitled “Views of Famous Sights of Japan” (Nihon meishō zue 日本名勝図会), the series continued for six months, November 1896 through April 1897, reaching a total of twenty-eight prints. As with the “One Hundred Views of Musashi”, the format is vertical; but the layout is less contrived, with the title in a red cartouche at the top and the artist’s signature in a simple unframed cursive characters within the print. Adjoining the title cartouche on each print is a box of text describing the place depicted; in the latter part of the series, each such text concludes with a haiku signed “Senshu” – presumably a contemporary poet.
One characteristic of Kiyochika’s landscape art was his reliance on his own watercolor sketches of the actual sites where possible. In “Views of the Famous Sights of Japan”, for example, the distribution of the twenty-eight places betrays a bias in favor of those that the artist had visited. Most are in the immediate Kanto area around Tokyo (18, although only one within the city itself), the remainder are in the Kansai region (6) or scattered more widely (4), from Matsushima in the north to Hiroshima and Kyushu in the west.
For some of the more distant locations, Kiyochika may have relied on photographs, but for those in the Kanto region he must have worked from his own sketches. The actual sketch models survive for four prints in the series, all of them landscapes of the Nikko area in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The sketchbook models are dated to the day of the month, ranging from June 2 to June 6, 1880. They are immediately followed, however, by sketches in a similar style that are dated from November 1890 to January 1891, strongly suggesting that he recopied the original Nikko sketches over a decade later. The generally more finished nature of these watercolor models further supports the hypotheses of later recopying.
Mount Tsukuba (筑波山 Tsukuba-san) is a 2,877 ft tall mountain located near Tsukuba, Japan. It is one of the most famous mountains in Japan, particularly well-known for its double peaks, Nyotai-san (2,877 ft) and Nantai-san (2,858 ft).
Kiyochika gives us a view of the double peaks of Tsukuba-san on a wind-swept day, the figures leaning into the wind as they attend to their tasks and the tree bending to the force of the wind.
The Woodblock Print
For sale here is Tsukuba Mountain Seen from Sakura River at Hitachi , No. 20, from March 1897. At this time we’re unable to find any copies currently or recently for sale at either retail or auction – the only copies we’re able to find are all owned by Museums or Foundations.
The oban-sized woodblock is in very fine condition; light cream color/tone to the paper, no significant discolorations. Intact and clean margins and a clean verso. Lovely soft, vibrant color reminiscent of the likely watercolor sketches.
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.
- “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