Tag Archives: japanese print

Toyohara Chikanobu – Wisteria Tree and Cherry Blossom Party

28 Mar

Today we’ll take a look at two lovely ukiyo-e prints by Toyohara Chikanobu, a nineteenth century Japanese ukiyo-e artist.

Toyohara Chikanobu, Carp Jumping out of the Pond under a Wisteria Tree at the Chiyoda Palace (Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami), 1894, oban triptych

This dazzling ukiyo-e print, Chikanobu’s portrayal of a scene from the court life at the Chiyoda Palace, has been lingering in my mind for quite some time now. What I love about it is the simplicity of elements and the vivacious effect that arose from that minimalism. The print shows three elegantly dressed court ladies enjoying a relaxing and carefree moment in nature. The focus of their, and our, interest is the carp jumping out of the water. And just look at that carp! Not one Western artist would paint a carp in such a detailed and exciting way. Not much is presented in this triptych; three ladies, carps, tree and a pond, but if you gaze at this print for a long time you can feel everything that is going on and feel a part of the scene. Chikanobu captured the exciting moment in nature; the carp jumping out of the water is something that happened for a second and was gone, but here it is presented in all its beauty.

You can almost feel the water splashing on you as the carp rises in the air like a ballet dancer doing her pirouette, lured by the scent of the wisteria tree that is blooming idly above the water. I like the rhythm of the stones in the pond and two light blue lines that Chikanobu painted to suggest the stream of water. The ladies look like pretty flowers themselves, dressed in gorgeous vibrant silks with intricate patterns. Two are observing the scene from the coast, the blossoming trees behind them are filling the monotonous off-whiteness of the background, while the more daring or simply more curious lady in the centre of the triptych is standing on the stone, careful not to let her kimono touch get soaked in the water. She has an interesting pose and a curious face expression, as if she was directly looking eye to eye with the jumping carp.

Toyohara Chikanobu, Cherry Blossoms Party at the Chiyoda Palace (Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami), 1894, Oban triptych

To give you a proof that the court ladies did not spent their days just watching carps jumping out of water, here is another wonderful triptych by Chikanobu which is again focused on the elegant and carefree life at the Chiyoda palace, and its ceremonies. When the carps are asleep in the pond, there are always the blooming cheery blossom trees to provide plenty of entertainment for the eyes hungry for beauty, so why not throw a party to celebrate the ephemeral beauty of the blossoming cherry trees? The first thing that catches our eyes here are the ladies dressed in vibrant red kimono, walking under an equally bright parasol, chatting about something I assume was very important, you know the latest gossips and the way the moon looked round and white last night. The entire scene is framed with the cherry blossom trees whose branches and flowers overwhelm the space. Because of the red colour and the flowers, it can be hard at first to notice a funny scene going on in the background; other court ladies, less sumptuously dressed, are playing the blindman’s buff game. What a contrast between the elegant and upright walk of the red-kimono group to the childlike playfulness of the second group. It seems that some came to the cherry blossom party to look good and show themselves, while others came to have some fun. Meanwhile, a light breeze is coming from the east, can you feel it, bringing the sounds of koto (listen to it here) and slowly, tenderly, blowing off the delicate petals from the branches into the vast unknown of the sky.

Chikanobu (1838-1912) was born into a Samurai family in Edo and started getting seriously involved in making ukiyo-e prints around 1877 and he retired in 1906. His most prolific time were the last two decades of the nineteenth century, 1880s and 1890s; the same time when Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were painting in Europe and were inspired by Japanese art. They would probably like to meet Chikanobu and exchange ideas about art. Chikanobu’s focus was on portraying women and he also did many actor scenes, which was a whole genre in ukiyo-e prints. In the 1890s he was commissioned to make these triptych showing scenes from the Chiyoda palace in which Chikanobu presented a nostalgic view of the glorious past that was disappearing.