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Artist: Katsukawa Shunshō (勝川春章)

Alternate names:
Jūgasei ( - 縦画生)
Kyokurōsai ( - 旭朗斎)
Kyokurōsei ( - 旭朗井)
Masateru (imina - 正輝)
Miyagawa (original family name - 宮川)
Ririn ( - 李林)
Rokurokuan ( - 六々庵)
Senjin (nickname - 千尋)
Shuntei ( - 春亭)
Yūji ( - 酉爾)
Yūsuke (nickname - 祐助)

Lifetime: 1726 - 1792

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Biography:

"Shunshō worked with over sixty publishers, produced over twenty different series of bijin-ga prints, often using large, single head pictures. His output exceeded two thousand prints, thirty paintings and he illustrated over one hundred books. He was an important link to the publisher Tsutaya Jūzaburō and an important early influence on Utamaro, who first produced actor prints in Shunshō’s style that used close-ups of heads or portraits that are known as okubi-e or large head pictures."

Quoted from an online exhibition of prints from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston at the Shepperton Art Museum in Australia in 2013. (JSV)

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"Lived in Edo. Pupil of Miyagawa Shunsui; also collaborated with the Hanabusa school artist Kō Sūkoku (1730-1804) and may have studied with him. His family name may be Hayashi, which appears in a jar-shaped seal on his earliest prints, though this is also said to have been the accounts seal Hayashiya Shichiemon with whom Shunshō is supposed to have lodged.

Scholars disagree on the dating of his earliest works - a diptych of actor prints in the Art Institute of Chicago has been linked to a performance of Meiwa 1 (1764) - but certainly by Meiwa 5 (1768) he was regularly producing actor prints in the small, narrow hosoban format and using the new techniques of the full-colour woodblock print (nishiki-e). Shunshō's actor portraits were also revolutionary for the degree of 'likeness' (nigao-e) to each actor's actual facial features, as demonstrated particularly in the colour-printed illustrated book Ehon butai ōgi, showing half-length portraits of actors in fan-shaped borders, which he designed in collaboration with Bunchō in 1770. A small number of prints of beautiful women in the prevailing style of Harunobu at the beginning of his career were followed by increasingly confident large-scale figures of women in the kakemono-e print format that heralded the development of his mature painting style. The illustrated book Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami, designed in collaboration with Kitao Shigemasa and published in the New Year of 1776, was a major landmark in the increasingly extravagant cult of the Yoshiwara courtesan, as well as showing new skill at setting groups of figures in complex interiors.

The earliest surviving painting by Shunshō that can be accepted with confidence is a hanging scroll, Standing Courtesan, formerly in the Bigelow collection... which can be dated to c. 1779-80 on the basis of the unusual form of the handwritten cipher (kao) following the signature. The paradox is that already in a sharebon of 1775 there occurs the remark that 'a scroll by Shunshō costs 1,000 gold pieces' ('Shunshō ippuku atai senkin'), so clearly many early works have been lost. Shunshō's mature paintings of beauties, done mainly during the Tenmei era (1781-9) and up to his death in 1792, are one of the glories of Ukiyo-e. Particularly notable is a series of tall, narrow hanging scrolls on the theme of 'Manners and Customs of Women in the Twelve Months'... only ten of the scrolls survive... datable to c. 1783, which was once owned (and may even have been commissioned) by Lord Matsura Seizan. In terms of thematic inventiveness, compositional sophistication, flawless technique and the sheer beauty, refinement and intelligence of the women portrayed they are unrivalled in all Ukiyo-e painting. After the New Year of 1789 the style of Shunshō’s signature changes dramatically to the broad, mannered 'Teika' calligraphic style, and the works of his last few years show a tendency towards tall, slender figures, often in large formats on paper....

More than 100 paintings by Shunshō are presently known, and a convincing attempt has been made by Naito Masato to arrange them chronologically on the basis of the forms of the signatures and ciphers... Shunshō's pupils Shunkō, Shun'ei... Shunchō... and, of course, Hokusai... all became important painters in their own right, developing personal styles."

Quoted from: Ukiyo-e Paintings in the British Museum by Timothy Clark, p. 110. (JSV)