Japanese art and cross over from Edo to Meiji
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese artist Utagawa Sadahide (Gountei Sadahide) was born in 1807 during the Edo Period. However, he died around one decade after the Meiji Restoration began in 1868. Therefore, not only did Sadahide witness enormous cultural, political, and modernization changes that engulfed Japan: but he also witnessed major artistic changes that dramatically challenged ukiyo-e.
During the early part of his life, the artistic clock of rinpa (rimpa), ukiyo-e, and other traditional art forms shone brightly. Yet, with each passing decade, the gradual encroachment of Western ideas and innovations would reshape various aspects of Japan. Hence, the art world of ukiyo-e would soon face the onslaught of modernity, photography, new Western art forms, and other factors in the late stages of his life.
Interestingly, Sadahide provides a glimpse into the changes in Japan and historical events. Thus he depicted the indigenous people of what became Northern Japan. This refers to the Ainu people. Similarly, he covered the shameful First Opium War in China, which highlighted the Darkside of Western encroachment – putting it mildly.
The artistic world of the Utagawa School blessed Sadahide with great skills. Hence, he developed enormously under Kunisada. In time, the world of bijin-ga (beautiful ladies) would be replaced by landscapes, historical events, musha-e (warriors and samurai), and Yokohama-e (Western nationals in the important port city of Yokohama).
Sadahide depicts Westerners with respect and avoids negative caricatures. He also respected the knowledge gained from the positive side of the interaction between new Western ideas and Japan. Thus he was a million miles away from the cry of sonno joi (revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians).
On the contrary, Sadahide depicted Japanese and foreign nationals naturally mixing – from sports to more mundane areas like eating together.
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