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CHOBUNSAI EISHI (Japan 1756-1829)

Ch˘bunsai Eishi Nowadays, Utamaro would be the most well-known Ukiyo-e artist who was active during the Kansei era; however, Ch˘bunsai Eishi (1756-1829) was probablly Utamaro's strongest rival or competitor at that time. Utamaro's works were supported by merchants and craftsmen, whereas Eishi's Ukiyo-e were supported by people in the samurai class, and that fact would be explained from his background.

Ch˘bunsai Eishi belonged to the Fujwara clan in the Edo period. He was from a samurai class, unlike most other Ukiyo-e artists who were of merchant class. Eishi was the oldest son of one Tokiyuki, a scion of the House of Hosoda, the Lords of Tanba, one of whom had been 'Kanjo Kata Bugyo' (Chancellor of the Exchequer). Eishi used to receive a large amount of government stipend (500 koku), but had this transferred to a deputy in order to concentrate on his Ukiyo-e work. He became a household official and court painter in the service of shogun Tokugawa leharu (1737-1786). At the age of thirty, he resigned this socially highly respectable position and turned to the popular Ukiyo-e style, becoming a pupil of Bunryusai and the Torii school. Like Utamaro, Eishi liked to paint women: either idealized girls in idyllic settings, or courtesans from Yoshiwara, which was developing its own distinctive culture as a pleasure quarter. Eishi's oeuvre includes 'Shunga' (erotic pictures) as well as prints with themes taken from Japanese and Chinese mythology, and romantic scenes. He modelled himself first on Kiyonaga, then on Utamaro. He found his own artistic expression, however, in pictures full of elegance and aristocratic nobleness - pictures that were so highly regarded that they were even shown to the imperial family. One of Eishi's pictures, entitled Sumidagawa Landscape, was even owned by Empress Gosakuramachi.

Eishi first learned drawing techniques from Eisenin Michinobu (1730-1790), a painter to the Edo government who was from the 'Kano-ha' school, and also from Bunryusai. The techniques from the Kano-ha were especially used in his drawings. It is believed that he introduced his first Ukiyo-e in 'kibyoshi' (picture book). Eishi depicts beautiful women and his works had been influenced foremost by Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792), Kitagawa Utamaro, and Kubo Shunman (1757-1820) until around early Kansei era (1789-1801). He was to develop his own original style around 1792 or 1793. Eishi mainly depicted full length human figures in a refined manner. His Ukiyo-e women are elegant, and quiet, and look motionless as mannequins. That is, unlike Utamaro's Ukiyo-e women, Eishi's women do not show their feelings on their faces. It is said that was because he was from samurai family and his view of women was strongly influenced by the idea of ideal women among samurai.

[Megakles 01/2008]

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