highly popular Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e, which was
prominent for the better part of three hundred years, is
marked by several different eras.
At its height, Ukiyo-e was known for its attention to
detail, especially in the woodblock prints, which were the
most significant media of the period.
landscapes and scenes of ordinary life became popular
towards the end of the Ukiyo-e period, woodblock prints of
beautiful women were the first subjects of Ukiyo-e artists
in the late seventeenth century and these types of prints
remained popular until Ukiyo-e fell from prominence in the
types of prints were known as "bijin-ga”, which is
Japanese for “beautiful woman”. One
of the more popular bijin-ga artists of the later part of
the Ukiyo-e period was Kikugawa Eisen, who produced prints
for about twenty years at the beginning of the nineteenth
been regarded by many as a plagiarist, because his work
follows the style of Utamaro Kitagawa. Kitagawa
was seen by many as the greatest Ukiyo-e artist of the late
eighteenth century. He
trained many students who carried on his style after his
death but Eisen was never trained by Utamaro.
Instead, he studied with his father Kikugawa Eijo,
who painted fans and other works in the Kano style, and with
Shijo artist Suzuki Nanrei.
Eisen's early work is very closely associated with Utamaro's,
he began to develop more of a unique style as his career
lines and sensitivity toward his subject’s emotions mark
Eisen’s work. As
you examine Eisen's prints, you can almost imagine the shy
sensuality of the women he depicted.
Most of Eisen's series of prints focused on beautiful
women, although he also experimented with using children,
actors, animals, and landscapes. He
worked in a variety of different print orientations,
including full-length portraits, close-ups, and narrow
prints. He also
often combined women and children in his bijin-ga works,
providing an interesting contrast between innocence and
last half century of Ukiyo-e art is often seen as a long,
slow decline of a once-popular art form, Kikugawa Eisen's
work is often seen as the last great bijin-ga prints to
emerge from Ukiyo-e. Some
art aficionados have argued that even if his early work was
a little too close to that of one of the "greats,"
his work taken as a whole represents many of the
characteristics that marked fine Ukiyo-e depictions of
beautiful women. The
characteristics included sensuality, attention to detail,
and flowing lines that invite the viewer to run their eyes
from one area of the work to the next.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that the artist himself
preferred to use the word "furyu" to name his
series and prints: "furyu" is a Japanese word,
which means "stylish" or "elegant”.