Artist: Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林清親)

Print: The Tenmei Era (天明ノ頃) from the series Patterns of Edo (Hana moyō - 花模様)

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Dates: 1896,created
Dimensions: 30.0 in,14.75 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock prints

Signed: Kiyochika (清親)
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon Date: Meiji 29, 3rd month, 24th day
明治廿九年, 三月, 廿四日

Related links: Waseda University - right panel; Waseda University - center panel; Waseda University - left panel; Tokyo Metropolitan Library ; British Museum - right panel; British Museum - center panel; British Museum - left panel; Freer/Sackler Galleries;

Physical description:

"The publisher Takekawa Seikichi launched a new, if short-lived, phase in Kiyochika's print production in late 1895 with a series of triptychs depicting women. Takekawa had published Kiyochika's works from time to time since as early as November 1876, but the numbers were few and the works were limited to historical and war prints in conventional style. In these new series, Takekawa was doubtless responding to popular demand, since prints of women were much had never tried this genre before, and would not return to it again.

First of three successive series published by Takekawa was 'Pleasures of the Four Seasons' (Shiki asobi), triptychs showing contemporary gatherings of women engaged in musical and literary pursuits. Next came 'Flower Patterns'... of which ten prints are known with dates ranging from February to September 1896, followed by what appears to be a sequel, 'Antique Patterns...

All the triptychs in the 'Patterns' series feature the unusual composition of enlarged figures or busts of women against a distant background depicting customs of a particular historical era. The term 'patterns' (moyō) would seem to refer both to the elegant designs of the costumes on the foreground figures and to the background tableaux.

The 'flowers' of the series 'Flower Patterns' are the beautiful women themselves, some obviously courtesans but others of less specific identity. The titles of the ten prints refer to specific eras of the Tokugawa period, distributed fairly evenly from Keichō (1596-1615) through Tenpō (1830-1844). Kiyochika's daughter Katsu, who was still a baby when the series appeared, claims that her father 'carefully studied' the customs of the eras depicted. The two examples shown here, however, reveal various anachronisms and inconsistencies. [The image on the right is the same as the one in the Lyon Collection.] These errors are less a mark of the artist's ignorance, I suspect, than of a mixture of wit and decorative fantasy."

Quoted from: Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan by Henry D. Smith II, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988, p. 98.

Smith continued on page 99 with a description of The Tenmei Era triptych. He notes that that period (1781-89) was the golden age of Edo. "The beauty is applying make-up with a mirror marked 'Best in the World' (tenka-ichi), and her kimono is decorated with themes from The Tale of Genji. The boat on the right, for example shows Niou and Ukifune in a well-known scene from Chapter 51, 'A Boat Upon the Waters.') Her hairstyle is anachronistic, belonging to a slightly earlier period.

In the background is an assortment of figures suggestive of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters: a samurai guest disguising himself i a sedge had, a courtesan behind him, and three rakish types who are probably performers in the brothel (one has a shakuhachi flute stuck in his sash). All are dressed in costumes with patterns so baroque and tasteless by the subtle standards of Tenmei Edo that only parody can have been intended. The poem to the left is by Ōta Nanpo (1749-1823), here signed with the pen name Shokusanjin, who became the leading light of the sophisticated interlocking groups of poets and artists that made up Tenmei culture. In the peom, his 'love' is wine itself:

Because of you, my love
In the golden cup,
The North Quarter
Blossoms are so fine,
The moon so fine.


There is another copy of this triptych in the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art.