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Reference » Ukiyo-e »  Artists Biographies

Eishi Chobunsai 1756-1829

Chobunsai Eishi, also known as Hosoda Eishi was born in Edo to a wealthy and noble samurai lineage. His family were the lords of Tanba, among whom one had been Chancellor of the Exchequer and within the close circle of the Shogun. Eishi is unusual among most ukiyo-e artists as being from such a priveliged family, whereas most artists were drawn from the lower ranks of society. Nevertheless at the age of 30 he abandoned his post and huge government stipend to devote his life to art. As befitting his samurai status in a rigid hierarchical society, he fist started his career as a painter in the traditional Kano school, the official painters to the Shogunate, with focus on elegant birds and flowers of the Chinese style. As a samurai it was beneath himself to participate in the art of the plebian townsman, depciting prostitutes and Kabuki actors. Despite his high status, he was drawn to the intoxicating pleasures of the floating world, and thus began to produce wood-block prints. His ealry works include a set of 9 triptychs of Genji a la mode. They depict girls in the most up to date fashions in settings related to the 11th century romance. They are drawn in notably elegant style, using the restricted colours of beni-girai to great effect. His most typcial works, however, show courtesans set off against a yellow background. In his striving for ellegant effect, his tall, willowy girls vie with those of Utamaro, Torii Kiyonaga and Kubo Shunman; eventually elongating the bodies untill the heads were only one tenth of the height. Utamaro in the eyes of many in his era towered above the rest in the field of bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), his work was supported by a huge client base of ordinary townsmen and wealthy merchants. Eishi, however, received perhaps greater honor and recognition in his own lifetime. His own expression was found in pictures of noble elegance and refinement, and though they may not have revealed as much emotion as Utamaro's they reflected the ideals of women in a samurai society. Onprint was even owned by the empress Gosakuramada. In his last years he seems to have ceased to produce woodblocks in favour of paintings. Some of his notable works can be seen in book illustrations such as "The Thirty-six Immortal Women Poets."

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