Japan art and Sukenobu (1671-1750): Women from all walks of life
Modern Tokyo Times
Lee Jay Walker
Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750) was based in the cultural city of Kyoto and he became famous for his own distinctive artistic style. Thus his rich depictions of women appealed greatly to kimono makers. However, while the imperial city of Kyoto conjures up images of high culture, Sukenobu focused on females from all walks of life.
Sukenobu’s Hyakunin joro shinasadame (Appreciating 100 women) was published in 1723 in two volumes. Yet the spectrum he covered would be extremely risky in modern Japan. This applies to Sukenobu depicting women from the empress to common prostitutes.
The artistic liberalism of the day related to women and highlighting a natural blend hit the right chord. Hence, no petty nationalism or classism. Instead, a realism that was acclaimed in artistic circles.
In this period of Japanese history, the mindset was completely different. Equally important, learning about respective artists before the Edo period – and during this period of history – many myths are shattered. Therefore, an all-encompassing stratification is dismantled naturally.
Sukenobu’s shunga art based on the notion of erotic art in Western circles did draw the ire of censors. Yet it is unimaginable to think depicting the empress and prostitutes – in the same volumes of work – would have been tolerated in the Abrahamic world in this period of history. Thus a liberal approach to art was granted in this period of the Edo era despite limitations being addressed from time to time.
When faced with censorship and limitations Sukenobu would express his disdain through the medium of art. Other artists throughout the Edo Period would also take a similar approach. Hence artists were not afraid to fight the system irrespective if directives from Edo or from local daimyo leaders.
Sukenobu’s legacy is based on his unassuming depiction of women from various walks of life. Thus, his art of women, production of books highlighting delightful kimono patterns, portraits of Japanese warriors, and illustrations of high cultural literature all highlight an individual who was blessed with countless talents.
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