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Three Women and a Boy Along the Sumida River, colour woodblock print, c. 1785–1792

Chōbunsai Eishi (鳥文斎 栄之, 1756–1829) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist. Born to a well-off samurai family that was part of the Fujiwara clan, Eishi left his employ with the Shōgun Ieharu to pursue art. His early works were prints were mostly bijin-ga portraits of beautiful women in a style akin to Kiyonaga and Utamaro. He was a prolific painter, and from 1801 gave up print designing to devote himself to painting.

Life and career[edit]

Eishi was born Hosoda Tokitomi (細田 時富) in 1756 to a well-provided samurai family[a] that was part of the prestigious Fujiwara clan.[1] His grandfather Hosoda Tokitoshi (細田 時敏) had held an influential position in the shogunate as Treasury Minister.[2] In 1772 he came to head his family when his father Hosoda Tokiyuki (細田 時行) died. From 1781 he held a position in the palace of the shōgun, Tokugawa Ieharu.[1]

How Eishi took to art is unknown. He appears to have studied under Kanō Michinobu of the Kanō school of painting, from whom he likely was given the art name Eishi—though tradition holds he received the name from Shōgun Ieharu. About 1784 he left the official service of the Shōgun and began to train under Torii Bunryūsai, an ukiyo-e artist about whom almost nothing is known. Eishi's earliest known work dates to the following year. He remained unofficially in the Shōgun's service until 1789, and thereafter left his family in the hands of his adopted son Tokitoyo (時豊),[1] thereby giving up his samurai rank; he reasoned that his ill health did not permit him to continue with such duties.[2]

Eishi's earliest works were colour nishiki-e prints. The subjects are such literary fare as The Tale of Genji and are in subdued tones, as required by contemporary laws against ostentation.[2] He went on to specialize in bijin-ga portraits of beautiful women, of which he produced a number of series. His most prominent rival at first was Kiyonaga; later his work competed against that of Utamaro.[1] His manner of depicting women went through stages: the earliest were of courtesans much in the manner of Kiyonaga; then seated women performing daily activities such as reading or writing, set against bright backgrounds; later, slender women standing against minimal, subdued backgrounds. Eishi depicted gradually taller and more slender women until, in the latest prints, their heads were one-twelfth the height of the figures; more so even than Kiyonaga, whose reputation is for tall, slender beauties.[2] Eishi made occasional illustrations for books of shunga erotica. He was a prolific painter of such standing that in 1800 a painting of his entered the collection of the cloistered Empress Go-Sakuramachi and he was granted the honorary title Jibukyō (治部卿).[1] Eishi abandoned print designing for painting after 1801.

He died in the seventh month of 1829 and was buried at Rengeji Temple. His Buddhist posthumous name is Kōsetsuin Denkaishin Eishi Nichizui Koji (広説院殿皆信栄之日随居士). He also used the personal names Min'nojō (民之丞) and Yasaburō (弥三郎). Most of his students are little remembered; the best known are Eiri [ja] and Eishō.[1]


Modern Collections that feature Eishi's work:


  1. ^ Eishi's family lived off the considerable stipend of 500 koku of rice per year.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Marks 2012, p. 86.
  2. ^ a b c d Neuer, Libertson & Yoshida 1990, p. 217.

Works cited[edit]

  • Marks, Andreas (2012). Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks: 1680–1900. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4629-0599-7.
  • Neuer, Roni; Libertson, Herbert; Yoshida, Susugu (1990). Ukiyo-e: 250 Years of Japanese Art. Studio Editions. ISBN 978-1-85170-620-4.

External links[edit]