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Artist: Kawanabe Kyōsai (河鍋暁斎)

Alternate names:
Baiga (go - 売画)
Baiga Dōjin (go - 売画道人)
Baiga Kyōsha (go - 売画狂者)
Chikamaro (go - 周麿)
Gaki (go - 画鬼)
Raisui (go - 雷酔)
Shōshōan (go - 惺々庵)
Shōshōsai (go - 惺々斎)
Shuransai (go - 酒乱斎)
Shusabūrō (nickname - 周三郎)
Suiraibō (go - 酔雷坊)
Tōiku (nickname - 洞郁)
Kyōsha Gaishi (go - 狂者外史)
Shōshō Kyōsai (go - 惺々狂斎)
Hata Kyōsha (go - 畑狂者)
Kawanabe Nobuyuki (family name - 河鍋陳之)
Nyokū Nyūdō (go - 如空入堂)

Lifetime: 1831 - 1889

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Biography:

"Among the most versatile and talented artists of the late nineteenth century, Kyōsai reveals in his work the virtuoso techniques available to artists trained in traditional methods. Well known in Europe during his lifetime, he was appreciated by Japanese and Westerners alike. Kyōsai became appreciated for his lively painting style, weird and fantastic subject matter, his drinking, and tall tales. His oeuvre covers a range of sizes, formats, subjects and stylistic traditions of Japanese painting and printmaking. Particularly gifted in technical skill that he used in an individualistic manner, Kyōsai had a creative approach to producing new twists on traditional subjects. At the same time, he stressed the practice of shasei, or study from life, by which he meant firsthand observation of things in nature in conjunction with sketching from life. For him, this was paramount for a painter.

A year after Kyōsai was born, his father, a lower-ranking samurai in Koga (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture), took the family to Edo, where he purchased the right to become a firefighter for the Tokugawa government, thereby enhancing his samurai status. Kyōsai displayed an interest in drawing from life at an early age and became a pupil of the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) at age six. After about two years, Kyōsai was taken out of Kuniyoshi's studio and began to study with a Kanō painter. In 1841, he was accepted into the Surugadai Kanō academy, which generally only accepted those who were of samurai status. Kyōsai proceeded through the course of study rapidly and completed his training at the age of eighteen. He received a Kanō name and worked as an official Kanō artist for a few years, until he separated from the Kanō school in 1852. Although he maintained pride in his Kanō training and some connections with the Surugadai branch of the Kanō family thoughout his life, he pursued the test of his career as an independent artist.

Durint his life, Kyōsai came into contact with a vast array of people. He collaborated with the author Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894) on early satirical manga; advised Ernest Fenellosa and others on connoisseurship; produced theater curtains for the Kabuki theater Shintomiza during its progressive era; and took English architect Joshiah Conder (1852-1920) as a pupil. He was acquainted with artists such as Kikuchi Yōsai (1788-1878) and writers such as Mantei Ōga (1819-1890), as well as Emile Guimet (1836-1918( and Mortimer Menpes (1860-1938), painter and author of Whistler as I Knew Him (1904). In 1870 Kyōsai was imprisoned and beaten for painting and calligraphy meeting in Ueno. This increased his popularity and his reputation as an eccentric with the public, but officials of the Meiji government were not as impressed. In 1881, officials criticized him for charging the vast sum of 100 yes for his prize-winning painting of a crow at the second Domestic Industrial Exposition (Naikoku kangyō hakurankai), and noted their criticism again on the certificate he received with his prize. Negative criticisms of Kyōsai for caricature sketches and other "low" art persisted long after his death; this, in conjunction with his drinking, eccentric work habits, and outrageous tales about his life, contributed to the subsequent relegation of his name to a shadowed corner of Japanese art history.

Kyōsai's reputation and his creation of giga (caricature sketches) overshadowed his dedication to his art. In fact, he was actively involved in many of the art-world events in the early Meiji era. He exhibited in early domestic expositions and participated in the first Domestic Painting Competitive Exhibition in 1882, as well as the first and second Japanese Art Exhibitions in Paris (Pari Nihon bijutsu jūrankai) in 1883 and 1884. He also contributed some works from his own collections to the Exhibition of Old Art (Kanko bujutsukai) in 1880, 1881, and 1882. His autobiography/painting manual, Kyōsai on Painting, 1887... provides us with many insights into Kyōsai the artist. Kyōsai taught that shasei, or sketching from life, "is the foundation and the essentials of brush technique are the embellishment. When foundation and embellishment are [both] present, one will for the first time reach the level of the masters." He did not believe that shasei alone constituted a work of art; indeed it must be balanced by considerations of artistic form. However, he selectively incorporated certain elements - foreshortening, for example - while handling others more cursorily - such as single point perspective. The study of "old and new masters" of various schools and styles of painting - Chinese, Western, or Japanese - was also important to his practices and teachings, and Kyōsai on Painting served as a kind of copybook for students. In this respect, Kyōsai's broad approach to the study of different artistic styles foreshadow the variety found in the curriculum of art schools such as the Tokyo School of Fine Art (Tokyo Bijutsu Gakkō). Kyōsai's work often has a deceptively traditional appearance. He did work within certain traditional boundaries, one of which, however, was the practice of interjecting something new into the old. Kyōsai characteristically exhibited a sensibility, often found in ukiyo-e, of creating fresh angles on established themes, varying conventional treatments of subjects, and interjecting interesting new twists. This enabled him to use images of modern Japan, such as hats, rickshas, telephone poles, and trains and to employ Western art techniques such as foreshortening, highlighting, and shading, while maintaining Japanese design, color, line, and other formal elements. Opening the way for new possibilities, including individual artistic expression was very important to Kyōsai. He wrote that "the most important part of this book [Kyōsai on Painting] is to show to beginners of the younger generation the style of famous masters of past and present, and, in addition, to cause the development of their own technique, ultimately causing them to master a skill which surpasses the men of old." This idea went hand in hand with artistic versatility. Again, in Kyōsai on Painting, his philosophy was explained: "If the painting specialist cannot duplicate [shasei] the form of things he sees, no matter what it is, then he cannot be said to be a painting specialist.... All of [my] teachings were from drawing [things] just as they are." Kyōsai thus encouraged his students to take advantage of the variety of resources at their disposal, to experience their world first hand through shasei, and to make use of both their artistic heritage and whatever the modern world had to offer as well."

Quoted from: Nihonga: Transcending the Past, entry by Brenda Jordan, pp. 306-307.