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Kuniyoshi Education Guide 443

Kuniyoshi Education Guide 443

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Published by Vylet Eclair
No copyright intended. It's free for all. Kuniyoshi Education Guide
No copyright intended. It's free for all. Kuniyoshi Education Guide

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Published by: Vylet Eclair on Nov 16, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This guide is given out free toteachers and full-time studentswith an exhibition ticket and IDatthe Education Desk and isavailable to other visitors fromtheRA Shop at a cost of £3.95(while stocks last).
‘Kuniyoshi’s real distinction and importance lie in his entire attitudetowards his art: in the unusually large scope of his subject-matter, andin his very distinctive treatment of the subject-matter … Probably noother ukiyo-e artist ever attempted such a variety of subjects, and itisvery doubtful whether any other ukiyo-e artist managed to impresssomuch of his personality into his work as Kuniyoshi did.’
Suzuki Jûzõ, 1973
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), one of the last great artists of theEdoperiod (1600–1868), is chiefly remembered for his skilfully drawn,action-packed warrior prints and wildly funny comic images. In fact, as weshall see, he was prepared to take on any subject, and he is widely admiredfor this versatility and his highly original, often eccentric, imagination.Moreover, a reading of the few surviving contemporary records suggeststhat,as a result of government repression at the end of the Tenpõ era(1830–44), Kuniyoshi was driven to experiment even more widely withnewsubjects and became something of a popular hero in his own lifetime.Edo Japan was governed by the shogun, a military dictator who ruledinthe name of the emperor. Government policy kept the country largelycutoff from the outside world and criticism was discouraged. The shogun’sgovernment, called the shogunate, had always kept strict control of popularprinted materials. But by the nineteenth century, its real authority wasweakening in the face of domestic and foreign challenges and furthermeasures were attempted to control the masses and promote moralbehaviour. Senior Councillor Mizuno Tadakuni’s Tenpõ reforms of 1841–43restricted the daily lives of the townspeople in such areas as luxury items,religious practices and leisure activities. Kuniyoshi inevitably felt the effectofthese reforms. Again in 1853, when American ships sailed into Tokyo Bayappearing to threaten an invasion, Kuniyoshi’s artistic activities brought himunder suspicion and he became the target of official ‘secret enquiries’.An
artist’s life was not easy at this time.
Kuniyoshi was the son of a textile dyer, Yanagiya Kichiemon. The family livedin the lively downtown district of Nihonbashi and he developed the generous,straightforward character of a typical
(‘son of Edo’). Cats were oneofhis chief delights and he depicted them often, as can be seen in thisself-portrait, a detail from a triptych where he is painting Kabuki portraitsinthe popular folk style named after the village of Õtsu (cat.129). Kuniyoshimarried twice and had two artist daughters who worked with him, as well asseveral pupils. They were probably all with him when, after a stroke in 1855followed by bouts of ill-health, he died at home, still in Nihonbashi, in 1861.The names of over 40 pupils appear on a memorial stele raised to himin1873.
‘To make single sheetprintsof Kabuki actors,prostitutes and
isdetrimental to publicmorals. It is forbidden tosell either new examplesorexisting stocks … Worksshould be composed inaccordance with loyaltyandfidelity, to promotevirtue among childrenandwomen … When newexamples are printed theymust be presented to thesenior city official … toreceive hisapproval.’
Office of the North CityMagistrate, 1842
‘It came to official noticethat the artist Kuniyoshi ofShin-Izumichõ madedrawings for print designswhich gave rise to falserumours. I was asked toinvestigate his dailybehaviour and hisreputation.’
Collection of CityProsecutions, 1853
The Sackler Wing of Galleries21 March– 7 June2009
An Introduction to the Exhibitionfor Teachers and Students
Written by Mavis Pilbeam
For the Education Department© Royal Academy of Arts
Supported byThis exhibition has been organisedby the Royal Academy of Artsin collaboration withArthur R. Miller andThe British Museum
Designed by Isambard Thomas, LondonPrinted by Tradewinds Ltd
Asaina SaburõYoshihide wrestles with twocrocodiles at Kotsubo beach,Kamakura,detail of left sheet
American Friends of the BritishMuseum (The Arthur R.MillerCollection) 19303
Courtier Ariwara noNarihira and his attendantsadmire autumn leaves on theTatsuta river,detail
American Friends of the BritishMuseum (The Arthur R.MillerCollection) 10615
(1542–1616). He set up a new capital at Edo (modern-day Tokyo). From smallbeginnings, Edo grew to be the largest city in the world by the eighteenthcentury. A large section of the population consisted of samurai warriors andtheir families who were forced by law to spend half their time in the capital.This benefited the merchants who served them so that many of theselower-class townsmen became very rich, with money and time to spare.These people had their own tastes and interests,and new kinds ofentertainment and art developed to satisfy their needs. Kabuki theatres andteahouses flourished, as did the Yoshiwara, the official pleasure quarterwhere they could enjoy music, dance, drinking and conversation with thefemale
entertainers, or if they could afford it, sexual pleasures with
,high-class courtesans or prostitutes. This was a world where they couldforget the problems of their everyday life and float along on a stream ofpleasure. It came to be called
, ‘Floating World’, and the paintings andprints depicting these pleasures were called
, ‘Floating World pictures’.In particular the demand for woodblock prints grew because they couldbe produced in large numbers and, typically, cost little more than adouble-helping of noodles. Skilled artists and craftsmen worked fast to keepup with the fashions – to show a celebrity actor in his latest role or a newcourtesan who was causing a sensation in the Yoshiwara. Techniques formaking full-colour prints were perfected in the 1760s and several outstandingartists emerged, such as Kitagawa Utamaro (d.1806), renowned for his
‘beautiful women’, and Tõshûsai Sharaku (fl.1794–95), celebrated for hisactor prints.
Production of a single print was very labour intensive, involving the skills offour different specialists, sometimes described as the ‘
quartet’: theartist, block-cutter, printer and publisher. The artist, like Kuniyoshi,first drewa design in brush and ink. Kuniyoshi’s preliminary drawings are startling intheir spontaneity. Corrections could be made to the drawings by pasting onafresh piece of thin paper. Many examples of Kuniyoshi’s corrected drawingssurvive. Once satisfied with the design, the artist copied it neatly onto verythin paper andit could be shown to the official censor and stamped withhissmall seal of approval.The paper was then pasted face down onto a cherry-wood block, and allthe cutting was done in reverse. The average Japanese print is approximately36 x 25 cm, the size limited by the width of a cherry-tree trunk. This is onereason why artists often produced diptychs (two sheets) or triptychs (threesheets) to give themselves more space. Kuniyoshi made exciting artisticinnovations in the compositions of his triptychs, often linking the threesheetswith one large dynamic motif.Next, the paper was rubbed with oil to make the lines of the designvisible. Now the block-cutter took over, using a variety of knives, chiselsandgouges to carve out the areas between the lines – including all theinscriptions, signatures and seals. This was the first or ‘key’ block, and was
‘Living only for themoment, turning our fullattention to the pleasuresof the moon, the snow,thecherry blossoms andthemaples, singing songs,drinking wine, anddiverting ourselves justinfloating, floating,caringnot a whit forthepoverty staring us intheface, refusing to bedisheartened, like a gourd,floating along with theriver current: This is whatwe call
Asai Ryõi,
Tales of the FloatingWorld, c.
Self-portrait paintingÕtsupictures,
1848Colour woodblock,
triptych36.4 × 25.2 cm (centre sheet)
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,given by T.H. Riches 1913(P.3656-R)Photo Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge
Kuniyoshi taught himself to draw as a young boy and studied foratimewith Toyokuni I (1769–1825), the leading
artist of the day.Hiscareerhad a slow start until he finally made his breakthrough with thewarrior print series entitled ‘One of the 108 Heroes of the Popular
Water Margin
’ (
.1827–30). He went on to design as many as 10,000 differentprints during his working life. One series of 51 designs sold a total of 408,000sheets. Kuniyoshi was also interested in Western techniques of perspectiveand chiaroscuro (shading). He collected hundreds of Western pictures andused Dutch models in some of his series in the 1840s. One of his best friendsand patrons was the poet Umenoya Kakuju, also called Sakichi (1801–65),who shared his sense of humour. Sakichi may well have organised a paintingparty at a restaurant in 1853 at which Kuniyoshi was asked to make a vastwarrior painting spread over the floor. As a climax to the entertainment,hefamously stripped off his cotton kimono and used it to paint in thefinishing touches.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the warring provinces of Japanwere finally united under one military ruler, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

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