QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT UKIYO-E

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Hans Olof Johansson

Index

Hiroshige triptych with bridge

Question:

I would be delighted if you can help me identify a triptych I recently purchased. It is by Hiroshige, and I have been unable to find it described in any of the many Japanese block print books that are in our local university library. I am sorry I am do not have the capability to send you a scan. The prints, basically in blue colors with faint orange at the horizon, depict a massive procession across a bridge. The bridge supports are in sets of four, with cross bracings, and each support is wrapped or thickened at the water level. The left panel shows a man(shogun?) on a white horse, with one of many attendants shielding him with an umbrella. There is a horse without a rider behind him, and a a third horse, with a rider, behind that, at the left. Ships with a single mast are in the river beyond the bridge, and two pagodas and other structures are at the shoreline in the distance. The center panel continues the bridge and procession with porters, people carrying tall banners, and a horse with rider to the right. More ships and a three-tier pagoda are beyond, and two smaller water craft are under and to the right of the bridge. The right panel also continues the procession, and includes 10 people carrying tall, black banners, in front of which are ranks of other individuals shouldering rather long items I cannot identify. A row of house-like structures form a line on the far side of the river, and men poling rafts are in the river in the foreground. Hills form the background in each panel, and the sky is a clear, light blue fading to orange along the horizon. Any information you can provide about these prints would be greatly appreciated: name, date, etc.

Thank you

Gordon Pollard

Answer:

After originally posting this question, I have received some photos of the triptych from Gordon Pollard. I have stitched them together to form this image, that gives you at least an idea of what it looks like:

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There are also close-ups of the signature, seals and title boxes, that are only partly visible on the picture above:

***(1) *** (2) *** (3)

These photos make it a lot easier to identify the print, of course.

The author of this triptych is Hiroshige II, and the signature reads Ôju ("by special request") Hiroshige hitsu. The box to the right of the signature is the publisher's mark. The combined censor's ("aratame") and date seal tells us that it was published in the 4th month of the year of the Hog (1863). (1)

The subject is historical. The man on the horse is the first shogun of Japan, Minamoto no Yoritomo (see Brief History of Kamakura Civilization), and he is depicted on a journey to visit the emperor in Kyoto. The location is the long bridge across the river Toyokawa at Yoshida, one of the stations of the Tokaido. (I believe that on this picture he is actually travelling back from Kyoto to Kamakura, where he had his residence.)

The title cartouche of the right panel reads Minamoto (no) Yoritomo-kô Kyôto kamiraku no zu - "A picture of Lord Minamoto no Yoritomo travelling to visit (the Emperor in) Kyoto". (3)

The title cartouche of the left panel reads Tôkaidô Yoshida-eki Toyokawa no nagahashi - "The long bridge of Toyokawa at the Yoshida station of the Tokaido". (2)

Hiroshige print

Steve Restelli has sent me this picture of a print:

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It carries the signature of Hiroshige but no other writing or marks. The size is ôban, and it has probably been trimmed. Steve wants to know more about this print: when it was published, what the title or subject is, if it belongs to a series, etc.

I have not been able to find any information, but maybe somebody else knows something about this print?

Answer from Chris Uhlenbeck (Hotei Japanese Prints/Ukiyo-e Books, Leiden, Holland):

In reply to Steve's Hiroshige question, it seems to be (the image is not that good), a rather faded example of a print, which was published by Maruya Jimpachi, between 1832-34 as part of Sumida-gawa series of prints. This group has been manipulated often and occurs with and without a large black title cartouche which possibly has been added later. Two examples of this series are illustrated a.o. in my catalogue no.7 pl.21-22 (with series cartouche) and in Tamba, Hiroshige, 1965, pl.132, which is an edition without the cartouche.

Recently many new catalogues have come out in Japan and I assume that other examples will be illustrated in those, but I have not checked them yet.

I hope this sheds some light.

Thanks a lot, Chris!

Kôsotei Toyokuni

Question:

Today, I bought an ukiyo-e. The signature is "Koso-tei Toyokuni ga". I know that many ukiyo-e painters had their own tei-name or sai-name (sometimes, ro-name), for example: Hiroshige is "Ichiryu-sai", Kunisada is "Ichiyu-sai", Toyokuni I is "Ichiyo-sai" and so on. But I've never seen "Koso-tei" Toyokuni. Who is this Toyokuni? Could you show me any information about this painter?

Best Regards,

Y Nagano

Answer:

The name Toyokuni was used by several ukiyo-e artists from the late 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century. It can sometimes be difficult to identify the artist of a print, that carries the name of Toyokuni. In most instances, however, it is very easy - if you know the tricks of the trade. In fact, a very large part of the prints that are signed Toyokuni can be attributed to the artist who is generally referred to as Kunisada (1786-1865). In 1844 he changed his name to Toyokuni II, after his teacher, Toyokuni I (1769-1825). This change of name was announced in the signature of a number of prints (see below).

***Kunisada changing his name to Toyokuni II ("Kunisada aratame nidai Toyokuni ga") in 1844

Fortunately, it is quite easy to avoid mistaking Kunisada's prints for those of his teacher. Thanks to the new censorship laws that were introduced in 1842, virtually every print from the following decade can be dated within two or three years with the help of the censors' seals. And from 1852 onward, almost every print had a date seal, marking the year and month of publication. Furthermore, most of the Kunisada prints you are likely to find in shops and at auction sales carry a very special form of signature, where the name of Toyokuni is inscribed in an oblong or oval, yellow toshidama seal (see below). If you see the signature Toyokuni with this kind of frame, you can be quite sure that the artist is Kunisada. However, if you see the name Kunisada in the toshidama frame, the artist is most probably Kunisada's pupil and son-in-law, generally known as Kunisada II (1823-1880), who after his master's death also took the name of Toyokuni, as did Kunisada III (1848-1920).

***The signature of Kunisada in the 1850's

The names that we generally use, when we talk or write about the ukiyo-e artists, could in a way be regarded as honorary titles that were inherited from master to pupil. Thus it can sometimes be very difficult to tell if a certain print was designed by Utamaro I or Utamaro II, for instance. Before 1852 seals marking the year of publication were very rare, and the same kind of censor's seal, kiwame, was used on and off from the late 18th century to 1842. There are, however, a lot of other possible methods of dating prints and identifying artists.

One such method, that is sometimes available, lies in the names that sometimes were added to the usual signature. Some examples are given in the question above. For instance, before Kunisada took the name of his master, he often signed his prints with Gototei Kunisada or Kôchôrô Kunisada. Additional names like these are very useful for identifying the artists, as a certain combination of names most often was unique to one artist.

When Kunisada called himself Toyokuni II, he did so in spite of the fact that there had already been a Toyokuni II (1777-1835). This Toyokuni, who also called himself Toyoshige, was the son-in-law of Toyokuni I, as well as a pupil and assistant of his. When he took the name of Toyokuni, aspiring to be the new leader of the Utagawa school after the death of his master, some of the other members challenged his leadership, and it seems that he changed his name again after a few years. But he is the artist who is nowadays known as Toyokuni II, while modern scholars and collectors refer to Kunisada as Toyokuni III.

Most of the prints by Toyokuni II are signed with the name Toyokuni only, and as his style is very similar to that of his master, it can sometimes be very difficult to tell their actor portraits apart. Generally, he is regarded as an artist of very little merit, though he did create some stunning work. Most famous are some of the prints in his Meisho hakkei ("Eight famous views") series from the early 1830's.

As far as I know, there are only a few prints where he has added the name Kôsotei to his signature (see below). But in these instances there cannot be any doubt of the artist's identity.

Assuming that you have read the Japanese characters correctly, and they look similar to the ones on the picture below, the artist who designed your print was Toyokuni II. By the way, the red, almost circular mark underneath the signature is the most common version of the toshidama seal of the Utagawa school, later extended by Kunisada to form a frame around the signature (see above). This simple, red mark has been used in the same manner by several artists, from Toyokuni I to the pupils of Kunisada, and some of their pupils as well.

*** The signature of Toyokuni II (Toyoshige) with red toshidama seal

A signature and a seal

Question:

I inherited a collection of Ukiyo-e prints from my mother and need help identifying the artist. I also have a question about the red circle placed underneath the signature. I noticed that this same mark is on other prints that I have seen in books of Ukiyo-e prints. Is this a seal for the artist or a seal for a previous collector? I would appreciate any help you could give me. I have attached a scanned section of the signature I hope it is clear enough to read.

Barbara Wisby

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Answer:

The artist is Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), and the red mark underneath the signature is the toshidama seal (see above) of the Utagawa school of ukiyo-e painters, to which Chikanobu belonged.

The circular mark on the upper right of your image is a date seal. Unfortunately, the picture is not sharp enough for me to read the date, but the print was obviously published after 1875. Before that, the date seals were different. Underneath the date seal, there seems to be some information about the publisher.

Who was Eikô Rôshunsai?

Question:

I have a rather beautiful woodblock entitled "Beauty in Mosquito Net" by Eikô Rôshunsai and my research efforts so far have left me none the wiser about the artist or the print except that he worked around 1800. Can you enlighten me? Many thanks in anticipation.

Best regards,

Belinda Hulstrom

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Answer:

Apparently, he was a pupil of Eishi (1756-1829). He seems to have been active as a painter ca 1790's - 1810's, and he specialised in bijinga (portraits of beautiful women). A silk painting by him is in the possesion of the Tokyo National Museum.

Unfortunately, this is the only information I have been able to find. Maybe somebody else can tell us more about him?

It is, of course, difficult to tell from the photo, but to me this picture appears to be a colour woodcut reproduction of a painting. Such reproductions of high quality have been published since the end of the 19th century.

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1997-11-24

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