Tag Archives: Ukiyo-e

Bat and Moon in Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints

22 Jun

Yamada Hōgyoku, Bat and Moon, 1830

I recently discovered this simple yet charming woodblock print of a bat and the moon by a Japanese artist Yamada Hogyoku. As you may already know, I am quite a fan of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, they are so interesting and exotic to my western eyes, but also I love bats (and vampires too) so seeing this handsome bat on a Japanese print made my heart flutter. I am in a phase of melancholy reminiscing these days and seeing this bat made me think of the bats I saw two summers ago in my small home town. July was nearing its end, dusk was setting, bright pink and purple, as I was descending down from the old graveyard in the hills, and there, by a beautiful and large weeping willow tree, I saw them in all their splendour; bats dancing in the air, chasing one another, fluttering their delicate wings, dark as the night, delicate and fragile, and so beautiful. I stood there amazed at the sight and nearly had tears in my eyes from seeing that beauty. I had seen bats before that day and after too, but that moment stayed etched in my mind because it was just perfect, just like a scene out of a novel; the pink dusk sky, the weeping willow, the warm and long July night that was upon me. I remember it as if it happened yesterday; the bouquet of wild flowers I carried in my hand, the dress I wore, the hat with long dusty pink ribbons. And indeed, I felt as if I were a heroine of a novel!

Seeing this woodblock print made me daydream of those wonderful summer nights which I know were beautiful, but I also know I have idealised them in my imagination, just as I do with each moment of my life that passes. I wish to see a bat again soon and feel that ecstasy filling my body and soul, and I wish to fly away with them, to some more joyous place, I wish to be as free as them! I’ve also included two more Japanese woodblock prints with the same motif. What I admire the most about these artworks is the simplicity; on the first one by Hogyoku the moon is barely visible, so light and ethereal it is, and the bat is captured in a seemingly swift determined way, edgy and sharp, with a gradient colour scheme, from greys to a deep black. I think it would be much fun to recreate these prints in watercolours. And now, to end, here is a poem called “Bat” by D.H.Lawrence who seems less enthusiastic about the beauty of bats:

At evening, sitting on this terrace,

When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara

Departs, and the world is taken by surprise …

 

When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing

Brown hills surrounding …

 

When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio

A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,

Against the current of obscure Arno …

 

Look up, and you see things flying

Between the day and the night;

Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

 

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches

Where light pushes through;

A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.

A dip to the water.

 

And you think:

“The swallows are flying so late!”

 

Swallows?

 

Dark air-life looping

Yet missing the pure loop …

A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight

And serrated wings against the sky,

Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,

And falling back.

 

Never swallows!

Bats!

The swallows are gone.

 

At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats

By the Ponte Vecchio …

Changing guard.

 

Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one’s scalp

As the bats swoop overhead!

Flying madly.

 

Pipistrello!

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.

Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

 

Wings like bits of umbrella.

 

Bats!

 

Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;

And disgustingly upside down.

 

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags

And grinning in their sleep.

Bats!

 

In China the bat is symbol for happiness.

Not for me!

Katsushika Hokusai, Two bats flying, c. 1830-50

Biho Takashi, Bat Before the Moon, c. 1910

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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.

Japanese Prints – Cherry Blossoms and Moonshine

13 Feb

Watching the rain of soft pink petals of cherry blossoms, against the night sky and magical moonshine – must be one of the most profound occupations one could possibly indulge in.

1852-ukiyo-e-painting-from-the-tale-of-genji-chapter-20-hana-no-en-under-the-cherry-blossoms-by-artist-kunisada-1852Utagawa Kunisada, Ukiyo-e painting from The Tale of Genji, Chapter 8 ‘Hana no En’, Under the Cherry Blossoms, 1852

It’s winter in the real world, but it’s spring in this Ukiyo-e print. Spring: the sweetest time of the year – a time when nature offers its lushness and greenness to all souls sensitive towards its beauty, a time when even the dullest of people may find in their souls a newly awaken dreamy sentiments. Yellow bridge, court ladies in vibrant silks and lavishing kimonos. Flowers everywhere; in the sky, in their hair, on their fabrics. Large and white, the full moon is low on the horizon. Cherry tree protrudes in the composition, giving the false impression of haughtiness. Like a beautiful woman showing off her figure and shining pearls around her neck, this cherry tree stretches out its branches, one might think heavy from all those lush pink blossoms, but no – their petals are as light and delicate as the moonshine which caresses them, and their beauty is as pure as the first snow.

The most intense beauty hides in the upper right corner: dark night sky becomes darker, cherry blossoms turn a more vibrant pink, and then a rain of the gorgeous pink petals, observed by the moon, shining with stillness. There’s still chillness in spring nights, but perhaps there’s a soft warm wind announcing the Summer days. What gentleness – petals touching the porcelain skin and elaborate hairstyles of the ladies. One holds a fan, while the other tries to catch the blossoms in her golden basket – how very wise, for the next day they all might be gone, and the awareness of that transient beauty is what stirs the soul.

As you all know, ‘Hanami’ or the custom of watching cherry or plum blossoms is a very important thing in Japan, but what I find even more exciting is ‘yozakura’ (‘night sakura’); watching the cherry blossoms at night. Then, for the occasion, the trees are decorated with brightly coloured paper lanterns. Oh, how magical would it be to sit silently and admire the cherry blossoms at night, with someone who’d appreciate their beauty as much as I would. Then, I would speak nothing, think nothing, just allow myself to be fully immersed in that beauty, and these beautiful verses written by Matsuo Basho centuries ago, would come to my mind:

There is nothing you can

see that is not a flower; there

is nothing you can think that

is not the moon.

Utagawa Kunisada, Yozakura Cherry Blossom at Night, 1848. Oban triptych, photo found here.

Kunisada (1786-1864) was an Edo period artist whose Ukiyo-e prints reflect the culture of Japan just prior to its opening to the West. In his own time, he was more popular that Hiroshige and Hokusai. Stylistically, he follows the realistic approach of his teacher Toyokuni, and was specially interested in portraying kabuki actors (those prints are known as ‘Yakusha-e’) and making ‘Bijin-ga’ – pictures of beautiful women, usually courtesans, but occasionally girls from bourgeois households. This particular woodcut shows the scene from Murasaki’s novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, that is, from the Chapter 8 which is titled ‘The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms’ and you can read it here.

‘sleepless night —

the moon becomes

more familiar.‘(*)

Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints

26 Jun

Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints that flourished in the Edo period (1603-1867). Term ‘Ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world‘ as it was meant to describe the hedonistic lifestyle of the merchant class that benefited from the rapid economical growth in Edo (modern Tokyo). Merchant class, previously at the bottom of the social order, now had enough wealth to indulge in all sorts of pleasures; from kabuki theatre to services of courtesans and geishas. Courtesan culture also flourished in Edo period, and male wanderers could find a refined female company in the ‘pleasure quarter’. On the other hand, geishas are female entertainers and hostesses, skilled in different areas such as calligraphy or dance. Courtesans were describes as ‘colourful flowers’ while geisha women were called ‘willows’ because of their subtlety, strength, and grace. In addition to all this, merchant class had enough money to afford a new art or design items, depends on how you look at it. I suppose some people really appreciated the beauty of Ukiyo-e prints while others merely enjoyed having them on the wall.

Ukiyo-e prints have a wide range of subjects and styles, depending on the artist and on the time period. The pictures below are my personal favourites, though I’ve also wanted to present you the variety of these artworks and Japanese culture. Woman Bathing Under Flowers is perhaps my top-favourite. However, as a true European my mind instantly compares these works with European artworks of the time. I mean, some of these works were created in the early nineteenth century – the same years that Jane Austen’s novels were written. It’s so exciting to encounter a different era, a different culture, if not in person, than through these lavishing woodblock prints – overwhelmingly simplistic, but dynamic, colourful, scenes from the world gone by.

The great diversity that excites me, and I hope you too, can be traced through the work of the various artists – from the famous Hokusai’s waves or Hiroshige’s nocturnal landscapes to Keisai Eisen’s ‘beautiful women’, Sharaku’s kabuki actors, Torii Kiyonaga’s mystical night scenes, to my personal favourite – Utagawa Toyokuni who, as you can see, focused on everyday scenes, especially women’s activities – bathing, applying makeup, calming hair, strolling in the rain (probably worried for the hairstyle), playing with dogs or cats, dancing or showing off in front of your friends – typical activities of the modern women. It seems like time changes, but people, their worries, fears and passions usually stay the same. Imagine, Utagawa Kunisada’s beauties in the print ‘Autumn moon over Miho’ admired the very same moon we see today.

I must add that Ukiyo-e prints were hugely influential on European art, especially on the Impressionists and Postimpressionist such as Vincent van Gogh who admired some of Hokusai’s prints and also the Japanese way of living.

 

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Woman Bathing Under Flowers. Ukiyo-e woodblock print, 18001800. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Woman Bathing Under Flowers, Ukiyo-e woodblock print

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Woman in Rain with Umbrella.  Ukiyo-e woodblock print, 18001800. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Woman in Rain with Umbrella

 

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Komachi at Sekidera ca.1810, from the series Modern Girls as Seven Komachica. 1810. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Komachi at Sekidera, from the series ‘Modern Girls as Seven Komachi’

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Woman Holding a Cat, Ukiyo-e woodblock print, 18001800. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Woman Holding a Cat

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Kaoru of the Sugata-Ebiya, kamuro Nioi and Tomeki. Ukiyo-e, 18001800. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Kaoru of the Sugata-Ebiya, Kamuro Nioi and Tomeki

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) - Beauty under Maple and Ginkgo Leaves, 18111811. Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) – Beauty under Maple and Ginkgo Leaves

Youshuu Chikanobu (1838-1912), Picture of the Hell CourtesanYoushuu Chikanobu (1838-1912), Picture of the Hell Courtesan

Woman Applying Cosmetics, early 19th century, Korii KoyinagaKorii Koyinaga – Woman Applying Cosmetics, early 19th century

Woman washing her hair with an attendant, Mid 18th century, Katsukawa ShunsuiWoman washing her hair with an attendant, Mid 18th century, Katsukawa Shunsui

Two women gazing at the reflection of the moon, Early 19th century , Kubo ShunmanTwo women gazing at the reflection of the moon, Early 19th century , Kubo Shunman

Seven classes of women. Color and gold on silk.  Early 19th century, Japan, Artist - Utagawa ToyohiroSeven classes of women. Color and gold on silk. Early 19th century, Utagawa Toyohiro

A Leopard Drawn from Life- Kunimaro, 1860, Japan1860. A Leopard Drawn from Life – Kunimaro

Beauties in the Snow By Utamaro Kitagawa, JapanBeauties in the Snow By Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806)

1796-99. The Courtesan Ichikawa of the Matsuba Establishment - Utamaro1796-99 The Courtesan Ichikawa of the Matsuba Establishment – Utamaro

1797. Hairdresser from the series Twelve types of women's handicraft - Utamaro1797 Hairdresser from the series Twelve types of women’s handicraft – Utamaro

1800s Katsushika Hokusai - Courtesan asleepLate 18th/early 19th century, Katsushika Hokusai – Courtesan asleep

1767. Two Lovers Beneath an Umbrella in the Snow - Suzuki Harunobu1767 Two Lovers Beneath an Umbrella in the Snow – Suzuki Harunobu

1794. The actor Otani Oniji II as Yakko Edobei - Sharaku1794 The actor Otani Oniji II as Yakko Edobei – Sharaku

1820. Hokusai - Still Life1820 Hokusai – Still Life

1826-33. The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai's most famous print, the first in the series 36 Views of Mount Fuji1826-33 The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s most famous print

1857 Sudden shower over Shin-Ohashi bridge and Atake – Hiroshige

1857 The Plum Garden in Kameido – Hiroshige

1830s Utagawa Kunisada - Autumn moon over Miho1830s Utagawa Kunisada – Autumn moon over Miho

1858. Hiroshige - The Sea at Satta, Suruga Province, from the series 'Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji'1858 Hiroshige – The Sea at Satta, Suruga Province, from the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’

1834. Hiroshige - Full Moon over a Mountain Landscape1834 Hiroshige – Full Moon over a Mountain Landscape

1834. Hiroshige - Heavy Rain on a Pine Tree1834 Hiroshige – Heavy Rain on a Pine Tree

Van Gogh – Japonaiserie

16 Aug

Lately I’ve been interested in Japanese culture and van Gogh’s paintings inspired by Japanese art instantly came to my mind. Still, the Impressionists were influenced by the Japanese culture even before van Gogh which shows how the Japanese art and culture was thrilling and inspirational for western world, that is, western artists.

1887. The Courtesan (after Eisen) - van Gogh1887. The Courtesan (after Eisen) – Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s interest in Japanese art flourished when he came in contact with Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints which previously inspired many Impressionists including Monet, Manet and Degas and some Post-Impressionists as well, such as Gauguin. During the centuries Japan was a secluded country but in 1854. Japan re-opened trade with the west and Japanese arts including fans, porcelains and woodcuts became available to the west market, especially France and the Netherlands. In 1868. Japan ended a long period of isolation and started importing products from the west as well such as photography and printing techniques. It was at that time that other Japanese products were imported as well, and all the sudden, gorgeous textiles, bronzes, cloisonne enamels and other arts came to Europe where they soon became popular. Japanese art proved to be a whole new world for the artists, and as early as the 1860s, painters such as James Tissot and James McNeill Whistler were seen painting ladies dressed in lavishing kimonos in vibrant colours that simply evoke the enchanting eastern spirit.

Van Gogh first became interested in Japanese art in 1885. when he used some ukiyo-e print to decorate the walls of his studio in Antwerp. Particular Japanese prints can be seen in the background of his paintings such as Portrait of Pere Tanguy. In 1886. Vincent arrived in Paris and soon embraced Japonism, which was, at that time, a fashion among artists as the Impressionists were greatly interested in ukiyo-e prints. Although van Gogh was initially influenced by great masters in Netherlands, coming to Paris meant that he’d be exposed to Impressionism, Symbolism, Pointillism and Japanese art as well. His circle of friends in Paris included many other Post-Impressionist artists; Camille Pissaro, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Paul Signac and others.

Japanese artists that particularly interested van Gogh were Hiroshige and Hokusai, both for the subject matter and the flat style of colour. He loved the vibrant colours, the distinctive cropping of their composition, bold and assertive outlines, absent or unusual perspective and flat colour application. He wrote in a letter to his brother in 1888. ‘‘About staying in the south, even if it’s more expensive — Look, we love Japanese painting, we’ve experienced its influence — all the Impressionists have that in common — [so why not go to Japan], in other words, to what is the equivalent of Japan, the south? So I believe that the future of the new art still lies in the south after all.” adding ”All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art…” Van Gogh studied Japanese ukiyo-e print in detail, making the copies of two of the Hiroshige prints. He also admired not only the art, but Japanese culture and natural and simple approach to life and things around them. What a beautiful, poetic thing he said “Just think of that; isn’t it almost a new religion that these Japanese teach us, who are so simple and live in nature as if they themselves were flowers?” Adding how studying Japanese art makes him cheerful and happier person “And we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful, and it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.”

van gogh1On the left: Plum Park in Kameido (1857) by Hiroshige, On the right Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige) (1887) by van Gogh

van gogh 2

On the left: Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake (1857) by Hiroshige, On the right: The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) (1887) by van Gogh

1875. claude monet- Madame Monet in a Japanese Costume1875. Madame Monet in a Japanese Costume – Claude Monet

1864. James Tissot, La Japonaise au bain1864. James Tissot, La Japonaise au bain

1863. James McNeill Whistler, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain1863. James McNeill Whistler, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain

1894. George Hendrik Breitner - Girl in a White Kimono1894. George Hendrik Breitner – Girl in a White Kimono

1892. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph poster1892. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph poster