So remarked Ishikawa Goemon, looking out from on top of Nanzen-ji temple’s Sanmon Gate. How wonderful that Toyohara Kunchika decided to paint this great thief!
Whether it’s Yukihime, in her pure red kimono, and the cherry blossoms reflected in her eyes, or the blooming night blossoms behind the two men fighting for her, Kunichika’s gorgeous style seen in this exhibition, they all make ‘a gorgeous view’.
We too want to learn from Kunichika’s bravery, who combined style and spirit and did not bend with the fashions of his times, this man called ‘the Sharaku of Meiji’. ”
So writes Mr Haga Toru of the Kyoto University of Art and Design, referring to their great collection of Japanese prints by the ukiyo-e artist Toyohara Kunichika (1835 – 1900). And how right he is… Kunichika is probably the last of the towering artists of the Japanese woodblock print, for by the twentieth century this art had been superseded in popularity by photography and lithographic printing and for a while the world forgot about one of the truly extraordinary genres of art and design. As fashions changed, as western artists and collectors became more aware of the beauty and complexity of ukiyo prints so their value was reassessed. None more so than Kunichika, ignored for the early part of the century and scorned by classical collectors he is now rightly acknowledged as a genius of huge talent and insight. The publication of Amy Reigle Newland’s Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master: Toyohara Kunichika 1835–1900 (Hotei, 1999) went a long way towards re-establishing his name and the increasing popularity of the Utagawa School of printmaking which influenced him makes Kunichika both accessible and still affordable.
Aside from the great beauty of his work – I’m thinking here of the great series of portraits of women such as 36 Good and Evil Beauties and his mastery of the kabuki stage – Kunichika perhaps more than any other artist charts the emergence of modern Japan and customs from its feudal roots in the early nineteenth century.
Kunichika at The Toshidama Gallery is an overview of his entire career from early theatre portraits of the 1860’s and his great print series of the 1870’s to the panoramic vistas of his later career.
To celebrate the Kunichika show we are offering 5% off all prints in the exhibition for Toshidama Newsletter subscribers. Do add your name to our list here and we will keep you informed of future exhibitions and similar offers. I hope very much that you take time to visit the exhibition and perhaps purchase a print by this master of woodblock art.