Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Thirty-Six Modern Restaurants: Restaurant Shoeiro at Shinbashi-cho, 1878. Oban.
This outstanding piece of design is from a little known series by Kunichika from 1878. Kunichika was commissioned by businesses from time to time, as were other ukiyo-e artists. This form of sponsorship has an echo today with modern forms of product placement; Kunichika produced another set of commissioned restaurant prints in 1871; and Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi worked on similar scenes. The practice shows how popular woodblock prints were at the time with the urban public and might compare today were Coca-Cola to commission Damien Hirst to produce an affordable edition of photographs for example.
The print is redolent also of scenes by the new European realists in Paris at roughly the same time. Degas and Manet, for instance, experimented with these close cropped compositions; a seemingly artless slice of life, a busy street, an open door, evening revellers taking in a show or a stroll or entering a restaurant. There is much to see in this busy piece: the tree stump in the foreground with shoes resting on it reminds us of how Japan was expanding, the forests barely cleared before hastily erected buildings were imposed. The complex and sophisticated grid of timber walls and paper screens that form the interior and exterior space vie for position in an expertly articulated architectural space. Kunichika has absorbed completely the influence of western perspective and the complex space he has drawn could be easily reconstructed in plan form. Into this he has inserted contemporary and fashionable figures - the woman at right, enticing potential customers, the elegant women passing and the man in the background wearing surprisingly western clothes. Oddly, there is no food visible in the picture; the advertising, such as it is is, confined to showing the sophistication of the restaurant, its setting rather than its product.
This is a fine piece, very fine colour, impression and condition with margins and marginalia.
35cm x 25cm.