Kiyochika, Patterns of Flowers - Unknown Print from the Series

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915) Patterns of Flowers (Hana Moyo) Unknown Print from the Series, 1897. Deluxe Oban Triptych.

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This is possibly one of the finest and the rarest prints we have sold. All of the comments made about the previous print apply to this quite simply extraordinary print… except the more so. It appears to be more or less unknown (completely so in fact) in the literature. The leading Kiyochika scholar Henry D Smith II has this to say on the series:

All of the triptychs in this series (ten are known) feature the unusual composition of enlarged figures or busts of women against a distant background depicting customs of a particular historical era. The term 'patterns' moyo would seem to refer both to the elegant designs of the costumes on the foreground figures and to the background tableaux. The 'flowers' of the series "Flower Patterns" are the beautiful women themselves... The titles of the ten prints refer to specific eras of the Tokugawa period...
Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988. pp. 98-99.

There are the ten known prints, available to view on the website estampes japonaise, and this exquisite print makes an eleventh.

For the print itself, a riotous array of panels of colour and pattern collide across the surface. In true ukiyo-e tradition (and there’s lots here), the face, exquisitely drawn like a noh mask, emerges from the geometrics of the fan and the panels of fabric. Part portrait, part still life of a Zouonna mask lying on a pile of kimono, this extraordinary image partly defies description. The inset panel, in complete distinction to the main piece shows a group of Edo townspeople. The subject matter of the print is unknown. This is a terrific series, the prints in it are simply stunning pieces of work in their outrageous, cinematic scope and in the near miraculous way that Kiyochika weaves a reverence for the great history and traditions of Japan and the challenges of the new, modern state. Not only that, when looking at composition in the west, one has to wait decades before anything as bold as these designs becomes visible. These superb prints not only look back to the glories of Edo and Tokugawa art, but anticipate the revolutionary designs of western applied arts in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

The design, as said, is outstanding, but the quality of printing and production also reflect the excellence of Meiji printmaking at its best. It is hard to find a comparable boldness or similar style with which to compare these works. Kiyochika’s own work looks to the west in its use of  kosen-ga (light-ray pictures), ukiyo-e prints employing Western-style naturalistic light and shade, possibly under the influence of the photography of Shimooka Renjo. These prints are strangely neither influenced by Utagawa artists like Kunichika, and Yoshitoshi nor do they anticipate the bland western landscape style of thew shin-hanga artists that were to dominate the early twentieth century.

Superb, first edition, colour, condition and impression are all outstanding. As fresh as when it was printed. Border trimmed.

72cm x 36cm.