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Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)

Spirit of the Cat Woman: Okabe

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1842
Size (H x W): 14.25 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Ibaya
Seals: Mura (censor seal)
Signature: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
Conditon: Very good color, impression and state, light album backing with calligraphy

SOLD

Description

Subject illustrated:  Catalogue of the Van Gogh Museum's Collection of Japanese Prints.  Pl 415

In Kuniyoshi's time, it was believed that when a girl visited a temple after dark, she took the risk of being greeted by an old woman who would offer her to stay the night. Once inside the house, the old woman would become a witch and devour her. Therefore, a cat around a temples could be the witch in a cat form.

About the artist

The son of silk dyer, Kuniyoshi Utagawa was born into the Igusa family in Edo. Little is known about his very early years, though he is said to have shown remarkable talent from a young age. Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and, in time, would become one of his most successful students. In 1814, he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent ukiyo-e artist. Initially, he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. However, his fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. From that point forward, the public hungered for his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi Utagawa worked across all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.

 

In direct contrast to the peaceful views of a scenic Japan provided by Hiroshige and Hokusai, the following decades saw a rise of the fierce, fearsome and fantastical in ukiyo-e. Kuniyoshi welcomed this changing public taste. He had a ravenous imagination and the full scope of his work reveals an aesthetic sensibility capable of capturing almost any experience. No doubt, however, his particular genius felt most at home in the world of martial glory, where epic battles decided the fate of empires and fierce warriors clashed to the death. Kuniyoshi's prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.