Chikanobu, Jidai Kagami (A Mirror of the Ages) - The Bunsei Era

Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912)  Jidai kagami (A mirror of the ages): The Bunsei era (1818 - 1830); Upper Inset: Dancer and people in front of a sign for nishiki-e, 1897. 1st Edition. Oban.

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Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterised the late nineteenth century. His work is sometimes dismissed as sterile or valedictory - a saying goodbye to old values, supplanted by the modern, foreign ways of the new age. This is to misunderstand the position of many artists who welcomed many aspects of the revolution but later came to regret the passing of traditional ways and values.

This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time. The subject in each print is the finely rendered foreground figure shown as a portrait head and in the upper quarter, a scene in grisaille from the chosen period. The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period above all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.

This is one of the truly great Meiji print achievements. The quality of the printing, the delicacy of the design and the extreme beauty and freshness of the colour is hard to convey adequately online. The print has never been framed or matted, full size with wide margins. Superb impression and colour, strong wood grain in the scenic view and exceptional fine line work.

Signed Yoshu Chikanobu. Published by Matsuki Heikichi.

37cm x 25cm.