Yoshiharu, A Bathing Resort (Onsen)

Ikuta Yoshiharu (active 1828-1888) A Bathing Resort (Onsen) 1880’s. Oban triptych.

Click here for a full-size image of the right-hand panel.

This is a delightful ‘impressionist’ landscape by the less well known Yoshiharu. Yoshiharu spans the two sides of the turmoil of 1864. He was a pupil of Kuniyoshi and would have been fully embedded in the world of the Utagawa School of artists, their culture and their scene, the traditions of kabuki and the attendant world of the publishers, the actors and the stage door… even of the prostitutes and entertainers. Fast forward to the 1880’s and most of that has disappeared, or at least would have gone in its most familiar forms. Kabuki was in decline by the 1880’s not by any means vanished but struggling to retain the popularity that it once had. The world of the visual arts was being overhauled by the introduction of western techniques of photography and lithography. More importantly there was the complete decline in woodblock production and its attendant publishers, carvers, printers and so on. The culture of traditional Japan was being dismantled.

For an artist like Yoshiharu, the great tradition - the high art - of ukiyo-e was over and he was really reduced to cartooning and to newspaper illustration. Prints from him become scarce and this piece is clearly a commercial piece advertising the bath houses and hostels of a bathing resort. Their details are picked out in the little red pennant like cartouches that litter the print.

It is a fascinating piece in the tradition of Hiroshige as far as the figures are concerned and the picture is filled with hundreds of details of people in the hot spring baths - the mixed onsen - which westerners considered highly immoral and which westerners today still struggle with. It is a delightful piece, with  the scenic mountains and the careful lay-out of what now seems to be the ideal town… I find it easy to get lost in the details and imagine an immersion in the late Edo world of hot springs and warm summer days!

The print is in fair condition and the impression and colour are reasonable for the age. Some creasing and surface wear.  Full-size with margins on each sheet.

76 x 37 cm.