Category Archives: Kuchi-e woodblock prints

A PAULOWNIA LEAF (Suzuki Kason)

«Autumn has come in heaven and earth, and the leaves are falling in the garden. But a paulownia leaf, the symbol of my family name, never falls and my spirit of loyalty never changes». The words of the famous daimyo Katagiri Katsumoto (片桐且元) are taken from the third act of the kabuki play “Kiri Hitoha” (桐一葉), meaning “a paulownia leaf”, by Harunoya Oboro (春のやおぼろ), pseudonym of the playwright Tsubouchi Shoyo (坪内逍遥).

The elegant kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print presented here, made by the artist Suzuki Kason (鈴木華邨), was produced as the frontispiece of the print version of the aforementioned play, edited in February 1896 by the publisher Wada Atsutaro (和田篤太郎), owner of Shunyodo (春陽堂) in Tokyo.

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A VIOLENT HUSBAND (Yamamoto Eishun)

Polychrome woodblock print made as a frontispiece of a novel, in a period between 1900 and 1910, by the artist Yamamoto Eishun (山本英春), a pupil of Migita Toshihide (右田年英) and author of many kuchi-e (口絵) prints mainly intended for publications edited in the city of Osaka (大阪).

The print is taken from the Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部), the famous literary magazine published from 1895 to 1933 by the Hakubunkan (博文館) publishing house.

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BEAUTY AND PLUM TREE (Mizuno Toshikata)

Beautiful kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print made by the artist Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方) and depicting a bijin (美人) beauty resting on the trunk of a flowering plum tree.The work is taken from a special edition, vol. 9 n. 2, of the famous literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部), which was published in January 1903 under the title “Seasonal Events Around the Country” (諸国年中行事).

Mizuno Toshikata (1866 – 1908), a pupil of Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年), was a traditional genre painter much appreciated by his contemporaries. Active especially in the production of front pages for novels, as well as woodcuts depicting historical subjects and beautiful women, he gathered around him and formed young talents such as Kiyokata Kaburagi (鏑木清方). Member of the Nihon Bijutsu Kyokai (日本美術協会), in 1903 he participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris.

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BEAUTY AT THE GARDEN WELL (Kajita Hanko)

Polychrome woodblock print of the kuchi-e (口絵) type taken from vol. 7 n. 15 of the literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部) and made by the artist Kajita Hanko (梶田半古) as frontispiece of the novel “Senkintei” (仙錦亭) by the writer Chizuka Reisui (遅塚麗水). We see depicted a bijin (美人) beauty arranging her hairstyle, bent over a well in a garden with autumn colors.

Kajita Hanko (1870 – 1917), husband of the female author Kitada Usurai (北田薄氷), was a unique hanga (版画) artist in the golden age of kuchi-e prints. He introduced, in fact, in the genre a fresh and richly emotional humanity.

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RENBO NAGASHI (Mizuno Toshikata)

In this kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print, one of the finest illustrations by the artist Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方), we see depicted a shakuhachi (尺八) flute player and a kokyu (胡弓) vielle player. Behind them the comings and goings of a Tokyo evening. The work was made as a frontispiece of the novel by the writer Oguri Fuyo (小栗風葉) entitled “Renbo Nagashi” (恋慕流し), that is “the flow of love” or “wandering yearning”, inspired by the well-known homonym musical piece that was played by the komuso (虚無僧) monks while begging or meditating.

Mizuno Toshikata (1866 – 1908), a pupil of Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年), was a traditional genre painter much appreciated by his contemporaries. Active especially in the production of front pages for novels, as well as woodcuts depicting historical subjects and beautiful women, he gathered around him and formed young talents such as Kiyokata Kaburagi (鏑木清方). Member of the Nihon Bijutsu Kyokai (日本美術協会), in 1900 he participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris.

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OKANE STOPPING A RUNAWAY HORSE (Takeuchi Keishu)

Okane (お兼) was a sarashime (晒女), that is a cloth-bleaching girl, well known for her femininity but, above all, for her incredible strength. Legend has it that one day, on the shores of Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) in the ancient province of Omi (近江国), Okane stopped a runaway horse with one bare hand, while holding her bucket with the other. In this print we see her even depicted while holding the animal still with just one foot.

This beautiful original woodblock print of the kuchi-e (口絵) type, taken from vol. 12 n. 1 of the famous literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部), was made in 1906 by Takeuchi Keishu (武内桂舟), one of the most talented students of the famous Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年).

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A SNOWY MORNING (Tomioka Eisen)

Delicate kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print depicting a young woman who raises her sleeve to her lips amused by two puppies playing on the snow. The work is taken from the famous literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部) and was made in 1904 by the artist Tomioka Eisen (富岡永洗) as an illustration of the novel “A Snowy Morning” (雪の朝).

Tomioka Eisen (1864 – 1905), a pupil of the famous Kobayashi Eitaku (小林永濯), began working as a freelance artist when he was still a draughtsman in the imperial army. After the disappearance of his master, he devoted himself entirely to his artistic career and became a very appreciated and well-paid magazine illustrator. He died only forty-one years old, when the kuchi-e movement was in full bloom.

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KOINOBORI (Takeuchi Keishu)

Koinobori (鯉幟) are the most significant and joyful custom of the “Children’s Day” (こどもの日), which takes place in Japan on May 5th. It consists in waving in the wind huge carps of paper or cloth painted in bright colors, which flutter as if they were swimming in the air. Every family, with one or more sons, on this occasion proudly reports to the world its own wealth by hoisting on the roof, at the top of a long pole, as many carp as the number of children in the house.

This beautiful original woodblock print of the kuchi-e (口絵) type, taken from vol. 14 n. 7 of the famous literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部), was made in 1908 by Takeuchi Keishu (武内桂舟), one of the most talented students of the famous Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年).

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WHITE DEW (Tomioka Eisen)

Fine kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print made in 1898 by the artist Tomioka Eisen (富岡永洗) as frontispiece of the novel Shiratsuyu (志ら露), ie “White Dew”, by the writer and literary critic Goto Chugai (後藤宙外). It is an autumn night and a young fiancée, in front of the entrance to a garden, looks at her beloved who walks away under the moonlight.

Tomioka Eisen (1864 – 1905), a pupil of the famous Kobayashi Eitaku (小林永濯), began working as a freelance artist when he was still a draughtsman in the imperial army. After the disappearance of his master, he devoted himself entirely to his artistic career and became a very appreciated and well-paid magazine illustrator. He died only forty-one years old, when the kuchi-e movement was in full bloom.

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SCHOOLGIRL SKETCHING OUTDOORS (Mizuno Toshikata)

The artist Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方) played a key role in the transition from traditional ukiyo-e (浮世絵) to the woodblock prints of modern Japan. This delicate kuchi-e (口絵) frontispiece is an example of this: the schoolgirl depicted here while sketching outdoors, with her hisashigami (庇髪) hairstyle, the comfortable hakama (袴) pants and a western parasol, is the icon of a new conception of femininity.

The work, taken from vol. 9 n. 9 of the famous literary magazine Bungei Kurabu (文芸倶楽部), was printed in 1903 by the Hakubunkan (博文館) publishing house and is titled “Beauty sketching in the suburbs” (美人の郊外写生).

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