Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese woodblock (ukiyo-e) artist Torii Kiyonaga was a very innovative artist who helped to enhance the prestige of the Torii School. Indeed, despite Kiyonaga not belonging to the Torii family, he still rose to the top and adopted this esteemed name.
Kiyonaga focused on bijinga (the art of beautiful women), Kabuki actors, depicting courtesans, and is famous for nishiki-e (brocade pictures – multi-colored woodblock printing). He also produced shunga (erotic art). However, aspects of the Kansei Reforms and the political edicts that followed sought to suppress this art form.
It is known that Kiyonaga began training under Torii Kiyomitsu at the tender age of 14. Yet, before this much is open to debate. Hence, some suspect that he may have studied briefly under Suzuki Harunobu, Isoda Koryūsai, and Kitao Shigemasa. This speculation is based on the influence of his art related to the above individuals.
Despite this, nothing is concrete about his earlier teaching masters apart from Torii Kiyomitsu. Thus, Kiyonaga may have borrowed heavily internally from the art that he witnessed. Therefore, his early billboards and depictions of Kabuki actors may merely be down to the art that took his eye. Either way, it would be the Torii School that would be his lasting legacy.
The Art Institute of Chicago comments, “The artist Torii Kiyonaga has been described as the preeminent leader in…the golden age of ukiyo-e prints.”
Similarly, the Portland Art Museum states, “Kiyonaga is lauded by Japanese and Western scholars and collectors of ukiyo-e as the leading master of bijin ga (pictures of beauties) during the early 1780s, but he also excelled at actor prints, having been trained by Torii Kiyomitsu.”
Overall, Kiyonaga produced many adorable art pieces and he wasn’t afraid to respond to the changing times. Hence, he utilized nishiki-e to the maximum and preserved the high reputation of Torii art.
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