Kiyonaga: Masterworks of Ukiyo-e


“The great courtesans, accomplished beauties, idols of the city’s manhood whose names were on everyone’s lips, had disappeared by the Horeki era (1751-64), and their place was taken by increasing numbers of low-grade prostitutes. By 1786, according to one account, some 2,270 (in another record, 3,900) such women were flaunting their charms behind the grilled windows of the brothels that lined the streets of the gay quarters.”

“…apart from the Yoshiwara there were other–officially forbidden–centers of prostitution known as okabasho, where another four thousand women were said to ply their trade.”

“From around 1800,however, there is little to note about [Kiyonaga’s] life. He was still in the prime of life, but he seems to have been content to let fashion pass by him, and go his own way without attempting to imitate the new styles initiated by men such as Utamaro…”

“…there is no doubt that Kiyonaga’s heart really lay on his single-sheet prints showing beautiful women and contemporary manners. Some of these are quite small in scale: there are hosoban (“thin prints”), surimono (prints illustrating calendars, haiku, or kyoka comic verse) and koban (“small prints”) which, though small, have their own unique value. He was particularly skillful with the hashira-e (“column picture”, so called because of its narrowness in relation to its height)…”

“[Kiyonaga] also experimented successfully with larger forms achieved by arranging two, three, or five prints horizontally (in one rare case, he arranged two prints vertically)…”


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