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Reference » Ukiyo-e »  Artists Biographies

Kiyochika Kobayashi 1847-1915

Kiyochika Kobayashi is one of the key figures of the Meiji period, sometimes referred to as "Hiroshige of the Meiji era". He is best known for his landscapes and cityscapes which reflect of lights. Blending the Western and traditional Japanese styles, he established his own style that was novel and widely praised in the early years of this particular era. 

Kiyochika was born as Katsunosuke into a government official family in Edo, present Tokyo. He renamed himself to ‘Kiyochika’ in 1862 when his father died and took over his family estate.  Kiyochika was transferred to an administrative institution and worked under a member of the Iyeyasu family. He joined as a samurai force in several civil wars in 1868 but Bakufu, the feudal government of Japan, was brought down after ruling the country for more than 250 years.

In order to work for living, Kiyochika resided temporally a number of places of Japan and eventually he moved back to Tokyo in 1874 when he decided to be a painter. He was influenced by European art and learned western painting from Charles Wirgman. He was also taught photography by Shimooka Renjo and Japanese painting by the famous artists, Shibata Zeshin and Kawanabe Kyosai.  

Through these encounters with different styles of art, he formed his original style called Kosen-ga: 'Prints of the rays of light'. His play of light and use of perspective and graduation were unique and advanced that attracted the attention of Matsuki Heikichi of Daikokuya, an ukiyoe publisher in Tokyo and resulting in their collaboration. Kiyochika's prints were published by several publishers. Among his works, those published by Matsuki are widely considered superior. 

Kiyochika designed on a variety of subjects - landscapes, portraits of famous politicians, social satire, samurais, war, animals, birds and flowers. He also worked for newspapers and journals, making cartoons and illustrations. His works are often of very good quality, and his landscape prints are especially remarkable. He was, like the great ukiyoe master Hiroshige, able to capture a mood and lyricism in his portrayals of landscapes while combining Western art with his ukiyoe-based style.