Japan art and Keisai Eisen: Edo artist

Japan art and Keisai Eisen: Edo artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist, Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), is often portrayed negatively. However, this doesn’t apply to Eisen’s art because he was gifted. It concerns his lifestyle.

The MET Museum says, “One of the most eccentric ukiyo-e artists, Eisen was frequently found drunk in brothels, and in his later years actually became the owner of one himself. His coquette is a far cry from the lovely aristocratic beauty portrayed some three decades earlier by Utamaro.”

Family deaths at an early age entailed that Eisen had to provide for himself and others. Thus Eisen focused on making a living at a young age. Hence, with shunga (erotic art) being a popular theme in the world of ukiyo-e, it appears that this world appealed to Eisen.

In “Notes of a Nameless Old Man,” Eisen describes himself as being a drunkard and lover of prostitutes. Therefore, he visited Yoshiwara (the prostitute area) often. 

In the opposite direction, he was a dedicated artist and author. Eisen also mixed in cultural circles that were rare for ukiyo-e artists. Therefore, he was a mixed bag – from high culture to enjoying the vices of Yoshiwara.

Overall, Eisen created lovely landscapes to erotic art – and countless depictions of ladies in the genre of bijin-ga.

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