Kusakabe, Kimbei (1841 - 1934)

Music Lessons

Medium: Photography
Date: c. 1870-1890
Size (H x W): 8.25 x 11 (inches)
Condition: Hand-colored albumen print, light staining, light creasing on corners, light wear.



Exhibited: Songs Without Words: Music and Dance in Art, Nassau County Museum of Art, Nov. 20, 2021 - Mar. 6, 2022.

This photograph is a hand colored albumen print.

Albumen print – paper based; printed with negative plate; first true commercial printing process; dominant form of photography to the turn of the 20th century; images faded easily and lost detail; paper so thin that many times the images had to be mounted.

Hand Colored Photographs: 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

Kimbei Kusakabe worked as a photographer and a photographic colorist. He studied under Felice Beato and Baron Raimund von Stillfried until he opened his own workshop in Yokohama in 1881. As the protégé of Stillfried, Kusakabe continued the tradition of the psychological studio portrait and recorded scenic views of the country while he developed his own sense of photography. Like postcards today, his work was collected by tourists and exported for sale as curiosities to those who could not visit Japan.