Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Japanese art: Images of tranquility and landscapes
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicted many images and covered various different subject matters. Therefore, the art of this stylish ukiyo-e artist in this article provides only a glimpse into the real Kuniyoshi.
Kuniyoshi was born in 1797 and died in 1861 and throughout this period many developments erupted in Japan. This applies to traditional rule in the earlier part of his life to rapid changes from the middle of the 1850s and onwards until the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai are the most famous ukiyo-e artists internationally but Kuniyoshi was also a crème de la crème artist along with many others. Also, the broad spectrum of many ukiyo-e artists is truly amazing and this also applies to the art of Kuniyoshi. Therefore, the art work of this wonderful artist is complex and depends on various different circumstances.
This article focuses only on the tranquil nature of his art and elegant landscapes which appealed to many Japanese people. However, it would be wrong to believe that these lovely landscapes and scenes of serenity provide the real Kuniyoshi because this would be false.
Despite this, for people who know the art work of Kuniyoshi the opposite could be said because all too often this angle of his artwork is neglected. Yet clearly Kuniyoshi’s landscape images match that of any ukiyo-e artist irrespective of people’s own preferred artist.
The Edo Period was succumbing to outside forces during the lifetime of Kuniyoshi and this must have infringed heavily on this stylish artist. However, when one door closes another opens up and this certainly applied to the later stages of his life. Therefore, new techniques, different thinking, growing outside influences, evolution within the Japanese art world, and others factors, impacted greatly on Kuniyoshi.
Images in this article by Kuniyoshi are a reminder of a world which was mainly un-spoilt before the economic, social, and political revolution which took hold in Japan and culminated with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
In an earlier article I commented that “Kuniyoshi and other famous ukiyo-e artists also take you back to a different Japan in all its confusion. Therefore, Kuniyoshi designed prints which covered a vast spectrum and this applies to landscapes, women, kabuki, humor, nature, satire, shunga, cats, surimono and other areas.”
“It is apparent that Hokusai (1760-1849) had much more political and sexual freedom and this notably applies to Hokusai’s shunga which is very powerful and erotic. However, the Tenpo reforms of the early 1840s introduced measures which banned prints of erotic women and actors who belonged to the kabuki scene. This meant that Kuniyoshi had to focus more on warriors and legends but his historical depictions were under close scrutiny. Therefore the popular satire of shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and other prints led to an official reprimand and many prints were confiscated and destroyed.”
Kuniyoshi also opened up the past and this applies to the depiction of historical figures in Japanese history, brave samurai warriors, events in Japanese history, famous legends and other related areas which nurtured each new generation.
Famous art pieces produced by Kuniyoshi include The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told, At The Shore of the Sumida River, Mt. Fuji from Sumida and Pilgrims in the Waterfall. Of course you have many other famous collections and art pieces by Kuniyoshi and preferences will vary with each individual.
Pilgrims in the Waterfall is extremely beautiful because it shows and highlights important aspects of Japanese culture when it applies to religion and nature coming together. This notably applies to Shintoism which is “the real heart of Japan” despite the influence of Buddhism within the Japanese psyche. Also, in this stunning art piece it is abundantly clear that space is very important and this applies to religion, Japanese gardens, meditation and other aspects of Japanese culture.
The serenity which can be felt by the Pilgrims in the Waterfall connects humanity, nature and religion together. Therefore, Kuniyoshi is highlighting a powerful reality which belonged to his world.
Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e is very varied and images in this article are limited to landscapes and internal tranquility in Japan.
http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/ – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.