Chikanobu, New Year's Day from Events Outside Chiyoda Palace

Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912) New Year’s Day from Events Outside Chiyoda Palace (Chiyoda no o-omote), 1897. Oban triptych.

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Chikanobu produced several different series of exquisite triptychs, made to the highest standards of life in and around the Chiyoda Palace in Tokyo.  The Palace itself, also known as Edo Castle, was built in 1457 by the warrior Edo Shigetsugu in what is now the Honmaru and Ninomaru part of the Castle. It later became the seat of the old Tokugawa shogunate who  completed it in 1636.

Chikanobu first made a series of 40 triptychs documenting the lives of  women in the Inner Palace before the Meiji Revolution. None of the figures seems happy or sad, ebullient or upset. In fact, these imaginary depictions suggest a realm of tranquil harmony, without conflict or illness. Chikanobu also produced a series of male activities which are significantly more animated. This masterwork of woodblock printing in pristine condition is from that set.

The print commemorates: A Depiction outside the Gate Where Various Low-ranking Officials Have Arrived to Attend the Shogun on New Year's Day. New Year’s Day celebrations were widespread through all classes and especially after the Meiji Restoration in the 1860’s. There remained a formal (but probably unnecessary) obeisance by officials of all classes towards the Emperor and this print shows the extreme formality that these events required.

Chikanobu realises this scene perfectly. It is a quite marvellous print - tremendously subtle, delicate, and printed with a lightness that stretches the medium to the limit. Most noticeably, the colours and tones of the serried ranks of officials have been subtly reduced on the left sheet, inducing the sense of spatial depth but also creating a timeless and other worldly feel…. this disjunction with reality with the material is further emphasised by the extraordinary composition; because whilst this print is clearly borrowing from European traditions of perspective, we are confounded by the mystery of the right sheet that leads us nowhere… the subject, the Emperor is not there. The officials merely slip away into the void of the right hand page.

The print is in fine condition, the colour and subtlety of the printing has lost nothing in the 120 plus years since it was made. The condition is fine, three sheets, unattached and unbacked.

A copy of this print is in the British Museum London.

70 x 35 cm.