KEISAI EISEN (1790-1848)
Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) was born in 1790 in Edo (today Tokyo). He was a true child of the city. His father was a noted calligrapher and poet, and apparently taught the young Zenjiro (Eisen's childhood name) the way of the brush.
Eisen is famous mainly for his bijin prints. Whereas Kunisada, as the head of the Utagawa School, came to specialize in kabuki prints, and Kuniyoshi in warriors, Eisen's area of expertise was said to be prints of beautiful women (bijin).
Eisens drawings of 'beautiful women' are different from the style of Utamaro. While Utamaro's women are thin and slender with long necks, and look like today's tall fashion models, the women of Eisen are even a bit bouffant, more like real women and thus more sensual. Collectors and art critics see Eisen as the master of the bijin genre of ukiyo-e for the first half of the 19th century.
The finest pieces of Eisen are striking and highly original art works, often more highly valued than those of his contemporaries.
As a personality, Eisen is difficult to characterize with the little information we have today, 200 years later. On the one hand, there are the stories of Eisen Ikeda, the owner of a brothel, the womanizer and heavy drinker. At an old age he wrote a book in which he tried his best to bequeath a macho image to the public. Eisen prided himself, as an Edoite, on a devil-may-care floating world sensibility, focused on living for the sensory pleasures of the moment.
And on the other hand Eisen was in fact a highly literate man, writing under the name Ippitsuan. There are stories of an intellectual, who kept himself in the circles of poets, and who was active as an author of ukiyo-e books, ukiyo-e artist biographies and biographies of the 47 ronin under the name of Ippitsuan.
The moralistic, negative judgments about his character in early writings on ukiyo-e actually derive from Eisen's own account of his life in his "Notes of a Nameless Old Man" in which he describes himself as a reckless drinker and frequenter of the Yoshiwara (the prostitute quarter).
Along with Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, Eisen is considered one of the leading artists of ukiyo-e's "decadent" period. His production of prints are of stunning beauty and high quality. Particularly striking are his large head and close up bust portraits, though a number of his standing portraits are also excellent.
Eisens landscape prints are widely accepted as some of the most unique work in this field and are highly valued. His surimono and giga are also fine, and make a striking contrast with his bijin work and erotica, revealing the many sides of Eisen's character.
Keisai Eisen is also found under the name of Ikeda Eisen.