Born as Shinpei Takeuchi, Keishu Takeuchi was the son of daimyo in modern-day Wakayama prefecture. He received no formal schooling, learning basic reading and writing through the private school organized by his father. Though Keishu was later adopted into the family of Eitaku Kano (1814-1891), national chaos prevented the serious study of Kano painting. Faced with a lack of demand for Kano-style artists, Keishu began to decorate export-bound porcelain on the side. Circa 1879, his brother’s suicide brought Keishu back to his familial home and an end to his Kano pursuits. He prospered as a porcelain worker, but when the company urged hurried, subpar work to increase profits, Keishu turned to hanshita, the black-and-white drawings used to carve the key block.
It is unclear what year Keishu turned to woodblock printing and the world of illustration. A self-taught printmaker, Keishu brought a freshness and originality to the genre of kuchi-e (frontispieces for books). By chance circumstance, he became a student of Yoshitoshi: Keishu’s pottery student Toshikuni, a pupil of Yoshitoshi, took Keishu to meet the famed master of the bizarre. Misreading the situation, Yoshitoshi invited Keishu to be his student and gave him the name “Toshisuke.” Keishu wrote, “It was not what I had in mind…but I had no reason to refuse it.” The two artists became friends and Keishu’s name can be found on Yoshitoshi’s memorial.
Close friends Koyo Ozaki, the leader Ken’yusha, Keishu illustrated many of kuchi-e for the works of this literary group, as well as children’s books. In 1895, he joined the Hakabunkan publishing company to manage illustration for the company’s magazines. Keisho continued to produce woodblock prints through the Russo-Japanese war, but towards the end of his life he focused on making Saga dolls.
Ukiyo-e | Japanese Woodblock Prints | Ronin Gallery