YŌSHŪ CHIKANOBU (1838-1912)
Yōshū Chikanobu was a leading artist during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a time when Japan saw the reintroduction of the emperor as ruler and the country underwent a rapid "westernization". Chikanobu was one of the most productive artists of this period, and he worked with subjects such as portraits of actors and artists, scenes from well-known places, and beautiful women, and also subject such as the Boshin war (civil war in Japan 1869-1869) the Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and the Sino-Japanese War ( 1894-1895.) Chikanobu used flat surfaces and decorative designs in the ukiyo-e tradition with striking effect, and worked with brilliant colors, especially red, purple and blue in their compositions.
Little is known about Chikanobu's early life. Born in Niigata as Hashimoto Naoyoshi, he was the eldest of two children. His father Hashimoto Naohiro (died 1879) was a lower vassal to Sakakibara daimyo. As a young man, Chikanobu trained in martial arts and in the late 1860s he fought with Shogitai (an elite unit) in the Boshin Civil War (1868-1869), supporting Tokugawa Shogun's military government against those who tried to install a modern government under the emperor's rule. In 1868, Chikanobu was captured during the fighting, but was released when it was confirmed that he was a well-known artist.
As a child he showed a talent for painting and first studied print design with disciples of Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) and then around 1852, when he was fourteen or fifteen years, he became a disciple of Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). Around 1856, Chikanobu left Kuniyoshi and began as a disciple of Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) in his studio.
After a few more years, around 1862, Chikanobu then began to work with Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) and studied, above all, actor portraiture, for which Kunichika was very famous. Later, Chikanobu and Kunichika would compete to design actor portraits for the same kabuki plays, but Chikanobu continued to pursue a broader range of motifs.
In 1871, Chikanobu established himself in Tokyo as an artist, and formed prints of well-known motifs such as the Yoshiwara entertainment field, scenic views and actor-portraits.
In the mid-1870s, Chikanobu, like many other artists, worked on documenting Japan's modernization.
By the end of the 1880s, Chikanobu and a large portion of his audience were startled by the rapid changes taking place in Tokyo, becoming increasingly nostalgic about the lost world of the shogun. During the 1890s, Chikanobu produced occasional prints, dips and triptychs, which promoted traditional values and highlighted aspects of lost Japanese culture.
Chikanobu's last work in the early 1900s told about brave samurai and heroic women in Japan's past, role models for the future.
Chikanobu died at the age of seventy-five in gastric cancer in 1912.