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Kiyochika (1847 - 1915)

Three Geisha: Kayo of Osaka, Hitosuru of Kyoto, and Kokichi of Tokyo

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1878
Size (H x W): 14 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi (Daikokuya)
Provenance: East Coast Estate (collected in early 1970's)
Signature: Kobayashi Kiyochika
Condition: Very good color and impression, light soiling and wear.


Playing on the familiar theme of "beauties of the three capitals," Kiyochika explores the technical potential of the woodblock print medium. Through the use of the "net" pattern the granular marks and crosshatched lines mimic wood engraving, the main means of reproducing photographs in the West. The oval framing and black-and-white format of the portrait evoke the photography of the time. Above the portrait , a gilt frame incloses the publishing informations, while to the right, a long and narrow poem card reads " Oh to see moon and snow together in the mountain of blossoms." (Trans. Smith, Kiyochika, p.28) This poem alludes to the magic of seeing three beauties at once.

About the artist

Meiji period print artist Kiyochika Kobayashi grew up in a rapidly changing Japan. Born in Edo, he was the son of a minor government official. Kiyochika studied Japanese painting with Kyosai and Zeshin, as well as oil painting under the instruction of Charles Wirgman. Inspired by imported copper etchings and lithography, Kiyochika soon turned his attention to woodblock printing. He was heavily influenced by Western art and techniques. He not only explored the new world of color introduced by aniline dyes, but also delved into studies of light and shadow in his prints. As magazines and newspapers gained popularity during the Meiji Period, Kiyochika illustrated current events and military campaigns. In 1894, he opened his own school. He worked right up until his death in 1915.

Publishing his first work in 1876, Kiyochika Kobayashi’s woodblock prints would come to reflect the changing landscape of the Meiji Period, the shift from the floating world of Edo to a modern Tokyo. These works reflect the influx of Western technologies, evidenced by clock towers, railroads and horse-drawn carriages. He also completed numerous illustrations and sketches of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. These prints of the 1880s and 1890s emphasize the military prowess that defined Japan’s new nationalism. The genre of senso-e (war prints) became popular, fitting into the imperial slogan of Bunmei Kaika. Meaning “Civilization and Enlightenment,” this policy emphasized military might and booming industry as the key characteristics of a modern nation.