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 Keichō Period (or Keisho, 1596-1615), 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.
This print represents the actor Okuni, credited with being the creator of kabuki theater.
The Woodblock Print
This oban triptych is in overall fine condition. The individual oban are separated and album-backed with overall good/strong color and detail. The prints do not have their margins. There is also some staining and discoloration along some of the edges of the images, seen primarily on the edges between left and center, and then along the outer edges of left and right.
About the Artist
Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林 清親, September 10, 1847 – November 28, 1915) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the Meiji period. Kiyochika is best known for his prints of scenes around Tokyo which reflect the transformations of modernity. He has been described as ‘the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan… [or, perhaps] an anachronistic survival from an earlier age, a minor hero whose best efforts to adapt ukiyo-e to the new world of Meiji Japan were not quite enough’. The son of a government official, Kiyochika was heavily influenced by Western art, which he studied under Charles Wirgman. He also based a lot of his work on Western etchings, lithographs, and photographs which became widely available in Japan in the Meiji period. Kiyochika also studied Japanese art under the great artists Kawanabe Kyōsai and Shibata Zeshin.
His woodblock prints stand apart from those of the earlier Edo period, incorporating not only Western styles but also Western subjects, as he depicted the introduction of such things as horse-drawn carriages, clock towers, and railroads to Tokyo. These show considerable influence from the landscapes of Hokusai and the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, but the Western influence is also unquestionable; these are much darker images on the whole, and share many features with Western lithographs and etchings of the time.These were produced primarily from 1876 to 1881; 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’).