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Born Harunobu Sugawara in Edo, Gakutei Yashima studied printmaking under Shuei and Hokkei. He moved to Osaka in the 1830s, designing landscape studies of his new home with a delicate and decorative style likely influenced by Hokusai. In addition to printmaking, he wrote kyoka (comic poems), often illustrating these verses in his prints. While a talented woodblock artist, Gakutei was also known throughout Japan as a writer. He translated and illustrated the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West into Japanese.
Gakutei’s oeuvre consists primarily of surimono. These deluxe, limited-edition prints blend the rich visual imagery of ukiyo-e with the ethereal art of poetry. These works were privately commissioned by poetry societies and prosperous patrons of the arts, often in celebration of the New Year, poetry competitions, and other special occasions. Most were printed with a light verse or clever aphorism and employed the most lavish printing techniques. These marvels of woodblock printing employed the finest handmade papers with generous use of gold, silver, bronze, mica, embossing and lacquer.