After the Meiji Restoration, photographs were becoming almost more popular than woodblock prints and the technical skill of the Japanese woodblock printer was capable of elevating hand coloring of photographs above what had been achieved in Europe. Artists would apply the color using water-soluble pigments that were more transparent than the oil paints used in the West. The paint was mixed with a small amount of glue. The process of coloring a photograph was so time consuming an expert could only complete two or three prints in a twelve-hour day. Soon however studios began to streamline the coloring process, where each colorist would specialize in a specific area of color, passing the photograph to another colorist after completing his section. By the 1890s, a successful studio regularly employed anywhere from 20 to 100 colorists.
About the artist
There are some works that arrive in our collection by unknown artists, while there are others that may lack a signature, but can be attributed to a known artist after careful research. Certain genres, such as Meiji-period photography and shunga (erotic prints) frequently fall into this second category. It is difficult to identify early photographers because photography studios did not include credits in souvenir albums, many of which featured numerous photographers. In addition, photographers often bought the negatives of others and reproduced them as a part of their own portfolio. When attempting to make attributions, photographs with no credits are compared to the few that have attributions. Turning to shunga, nearly all ukiyo-e artists produced erotic prints, yet these prints are often unsigned to avoid trouble with the law. For these works, attributions are generally made based on stylistic analysis.