Japan art and Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)

Japan art and Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) belongs to the Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history. He fully understood the artistic shifting sands that took place in Japan. However, while Zeshin gained notoriety outside Japan, he was often deemed outside the lacquerer angle with being limited in scope concerning his print art and paintings. 

Of course, Zeshin had many admirers in Japan – from laypeople to the upper echelons of the Meiji political elites. Yet, his name never reached the heights of other painters and print artists during the same time period. 

The British Museum says Zeshin was ” Best known as a lacquer craftsman, trained from the age of eleven with Koma Kansai II (1766-1835); also successful painter in the Shijo style, which he studied under Suzuki Nanrei (q.v.) from the age of sixteen.”

He was well versed in high culture from a young age. Thus outside of the world of art, he focused on poetry (haiku and waka), history, literature, philosophy, the tea ceremony, and other areas concerning the aesthetics of Japanese art from other periods of history. 

The San Diego Museum of Art says, “Shibata Zeshin was born into a family of lacquerers who served Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate (1615-1868)—a regime that closed Japan to outside contact in 1639. By the time of Zeshin’s death in 1891, a great deal had changed, and Japanese art was inspiring new aesthetic directions for artists in Europe and America. Commodore Perry had arrived in 1853, ending Japan’s isolation; the shogunate had collapsed in the 2nd quarter of the 19th century; and the imperial family had been restored to rule in Japan in 1868. In his later years, Zeshin became an internationally known artist and represented his country in the promotion of Japanese lacquer art at the International Expositions of Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), and Paris (1890).” 

Japanese lacquer art attracted interest internationally during the earlier part of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Hence, the work of Zeshin became admired outside his native land. 

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