|Three Beauties of the Present Day by Utamaro, 1793|
Kōjien defines bijin-ga as a picture that simply "emphasizes the beauty of women", and Shincho Encyclopedia of World Art defines it as depiction of "the beauty of a woman's appearance". On the other hand, Gendai Nihon Bijin-ga Zenshū Meisaku-sen I defines bijin-ga as pictures that explore "the inner beauty of women". For this reason, the essence of bijin-ga cannot always be expressed only through the depiction of a bijin, a woman aligning with the beauty image. In fact, in ukiyo-e bijin-ga, it was not important whether the picture resembled the facial features of the model, and the depiction in ukiyo-e bijin-ga is stylized rather than an attempt to create a realistic image. For example, at that time, married women had a custom of shaving their eyebrows (hikimayu), but in bijin-ga, there was a rule to draw the eyebrows for married women.
Ukiyo-e itself is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that was produced in Japan from the 17th century to the 19th century. The prints were very popular amongst the Japanese merchants and the middle class of the time.
Looking at the history of the development of ukiyo-e bijin-ga from the Edo period to Meiji era, the so called "technical evolution" common to all ukiyo-e prints, in which the accuracy of carving and printing and the vividness of color materials, increased as time progressed. It has been pointed out that the painters that represented the bijin-ga of each era contributed to the stylistic evolution towards maximizing the realistic expression of a real beauty living in that specific era, whilst also adding their own creative expression.
Nearly all ukiyo-e artists produced bijin-ga, it being one of the central themes of the genre. However, a few, including Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Itō Shinsui, Toyohara Chikanobu, Uemura Shōen and Torii Kiyonaga, have been described as the greatest innovators and masters of the form.
Bijin-ga by Keisai Eisen (1790–1848)
Woman Visiting the Shrine in the Night by Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770)
Shin Bijin, Shin Bijin series, No. 12 by Yōshū Chikanobu (1838–1912)
100 Aspects of the Moon by Yoshitoshi (1839–1892)
Two Women Standing from the series "Tosai Yuri Bijin Awase", by Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815)
Woman with cherry flowers by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
A Girl About to Despatch a Letter, by Torii Kiyomine (1786–1868)
The Courtesan Someyama of the Matsubaya house, from the series Contest of Beauties in the Gay Quarters, by Eishosai Choki (active from about 1786 to 1808)
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