Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)

Lee Jay Walker 

Modern Tokyo Times

In the idealized world of yesteryear, memories of decades ago can easily play tricks – even if many positives abound. Hence, the elegant art of Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) is blessed with the artistic touch where even the mundane looks serene. 

The British Museum reports, “The special characteristics of Kiyonaga’s figure style are a tall stature (the head only one-eighth of the total stature) and a vital and wholesome appearance. He was skilled at groupings of figures, and there are many masterpieces among his multi-sheet compositions. Kiyonaga also made innovations in the depiction of Kabuki performances, producing a series of ‘oban’ prints showing both actors and accompanying musicians on stage.”

Internationally and inside Japan, the reputation of Kiyonaga is extremely high among lovers of Japanese art. By the 1780s, Kiyonaga was a leading artist in the area of bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful ladies).

Also, his training under Torii Kiyomitsu enabled Kiyonaga to focus on actor prints. Thus, Kiyonaga excelled in several themes that were popular in Japan. This notably concerns beautiful lladies and kabuki prints that were extremely popular 

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.”

Overall, Kiyonaga is famous for nishiki-e (brocade pictures – multi-colored woodblock printing)bijin-ga and intricate features of refined ladies, extremely popular Kabuki actors, and depicting courtesans. He also produced shunga (erotic art). However, the Kansei Reforms of the 1790s clamped down on this art form. Therefore, he leaves behind a lasting legacy!

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