Chikanobu (1838 - 1912)

To Ei (Dong Yong)

Series: 24 Paragons of Filial Piety
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1890
Size (H x W): 14.25 x 9.25 (inches)
Publisher: Hasegawa Tsunejiro
Signature: Yoshu Chikanobu
Conditon: Very good color, impression and state. slightly trimmed bottom edge, embellished with black lacquer



To Ei (or Dong Yong in the Chinese tale) lost his mother as a child and lost his father soon after. When could not pay for his father’s funeral, he sold himself as an indentured servant to a wealthy man in order to pay funeral fees. As To Ei traveled to his master’s house, he encounter a beautiful woman on the road. The two were married and together began work weaving the 300 bolts of cloths required of To Ei’s servitude. Though he estimated that the task would take at least three years, the young woman completed all 300 bolts in a month. As they took their first steps of freedom, the woman revealed that she was the daughter of the Heavenly Emperor. She had been so moved by To Ei’s filial piety that she came from heaven to help him. Since To Ei was once again a free man, she returned to Heaven.

About the artist

Chikanobu Toyohara (also known as Chikanobu Yoshu) was an influential woodblock print artist of the Meiji Period. Born in Niigata prefecture, Chikanobu (née Naoyoshi Hashimoto) began his life as a samurai of the Sakakibara Clan. During the Meiji Restoration, he joined the shogitai, an elite samurai brigade in direct support of the shogun’s court, and fought bravely in the Battle of Ueno in 1868. As the Shogunate fell, Chikanobu turned to a career in art. Though trained in Kano school painting, he shifted his attention to ukiyo-e in 1875. He began his printmaking career under the tutelage of the Utagawa School masters Kuniyoshi, Kunisada and Kunichika. Like many of his contemporaries, Chikanobu also worked as a newspaper illustrator. He designed prints in all genres, from kabuki actors to historical military scenes and senso-e, but he is most recognized for his portrayal of women’s fashions, pastimes and customs. These works trace the movement of traditional Japanese culture into increasingly Western-influenced Japan that emerged after Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1854 and the resulting modernization. While many of the prints from this era feature the bright, opaque appearance of aniline dyes, Chikanobu Toyohara maintains an aspect of subtlety even with the use of these synthetic colors.