Chikanobu (1838 - 1912)
Three Brothers Denshin, Denko and Denkei (Tian Zhen, Tian Guang and Tian Qing)
The story of the brothers Denshin, Denko and Denkei (known as Tian Zhen, Tian Guang, and Tian Qing in the Chinese tale) speaks to the bonds between siblings more than to filial piety. Following the death of their parents, the three brothers were dividing their inheritance when they began discussing the fate of the purple rose bush. Initially, they decided to split the tree into thirds, yet Denshin challenged this choice: The plant grew from one root, so splitting the plant would only kill the beautiful flowers. They decided to share the inheritance and not split it between themselves.
About the artist
Chikanobu Toyohara (also known as Chikanobu Yoshu) was a leading woodblock print artist of the Meiji Period. Born in Niigata prefecture as Naoyoshi Hashimoto, Chikanobu began his life as the son of samurai in the service of the Sakakibara clan. During the Meiji Restoration, he joined the shogitai, an elite samurai brigade in direct support of the waning Tokugawa Shogunate, and fought bravely in the Battle of Ueno in 1868. Though captured in the fray, he was released unharmed. As the Shogunate fell, Chikanobu focused on a career in art.
Though trained in Kano school painting from an early age, Chikanobu shifted his attention to ukiyo-e around 1852. He began his printmaking career under the tutelage of Utagawa School masters Kuniyoshi, Kunisada and Kunichika. Like many of his contemporaries, Chikanobu Toyohara worked as a newspaper illustrator as well as a print artist. By 1871, he had established himself as a leading print artist. He designed across all genres, from kabuki actors and beauties to military exploits of past and present. During the 1870s, Chikanobu captured Meiji Japan’s rapid modernization through kaika-e, or “enlightenment pictures.” Attuned to current events and public taste, he produced designs of both the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, an ill-fated insurrection again Meiji government, and well as the 1882 Imo Incident in Korea. Chikanobu’s reflected his changing world not only through his subject matter, but also in his materials. Incorporating the purples and reds of imported aniline dyes, he achieved an element of subtlety and sophistication rarely seen in his era. By the 1880s, a wave of national nostalgia for a Japan past prompted designs exploring traditional Japanese culture, values, and heroes. Through explorations of female beauty, Chikanobu Toyohara personified moments in Japanese history through fashion, manners and customs. In 1912, he died of stomach cancer.