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Kobayashi Kiyochika



Kobayashi Kiyochika is considered the last great master of ukiyo-e printmaking. He was born September 10, 1847 in the Asakusa neighborhood of Edo (now Tokyo), Japan. His family worked in the extensive bureaucracy of the Tokugawa shogunate government. Kobayashi fought on the side of the Tokugawa clan during the civil war leading up to the 1868 Meiji Restoration. When the Tokugawa government fell to the forces of Emperor Meiji, Kobayashi followed the shogun and went into self-imposed exile for six years in Shizuoka. He returned to Edo in 1874 and, despite his lack of formal printing in woodblock printing. quickly established his reputation as a talented creator of ukiyo-e, the popular “pictures of the floating world” depicting Edo’s nightlife. Kobayashi resisted the trend of kaika-e, “enlightenment pictures,” that celebrated the changes brought to Japan by Western influences. Instead, he expressed a sense of impending alienation brought about by new technologies, especially in his unfinished “Famous Places of Tokyo” series he worked on from 1876 to 1881, until the Great Fire at Ryōgoku Bridge destroyed his home and studio. Despite his critical portrayal of a changing Japan, in his landscape paintings, Kobayashi developed a new technique he called kōsen-ga, “pictures of sunbeams,” inspired by the evocation of light and shadow in European painting. After 1882, inspired by the rising trend of Japanese nationalism, Kobayashi abandoned Western-inspired painting to work on educational illustrations and prints depicting the history of Japan. During the ten-month long Sino-Japanese War from 1894 to 1895, which established Japan’s global status as an imperial power, Kobayashi produced more than 70 triptych paintings depicting his country’s military triumphs. During this period, he also established an art school. Kobayashi worked as a teacher and artist until he died on November 28, 1915. His novel inclusion of Western technique into traditional Japanese printing inspired the Shin Hanga movement that revitalized ukiyo-e during the 20th century, practiced by artists including Hasui Kawase and Hiroshi Yoshida.

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