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Though he signed his name Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi, the artist who made this print is more commonly known as Utagawa Kuniyoshi, a pupil of the Utagawa school of ukiyo-e style woodblock printing.
The abundance of colors used for this triptych would have required multiple woodblocks and the help of several block carvers and printers to produce. By applying each color to specific sections of a woodblock, blocks could be reused to create a sense of depth while also conserving time and materials. Despite this, it was not uncommon for prints to require as many as ten blocks to create.(1) Since complex block sets could take up to three weeks to carve, blocks were sometimes reused for subsequent works. For example, the figures shown here also appear in different colors in other prints by Kuniyoshi.(2)
Kuniyoshi was most lauded for his prints of warriors and legends, although he also made images of theatrical scenes, cats, and even caricatures of historical figures. However, due to censorship from the Tenpo reforms of the 1840’s as well as increased pressure by publishers to turn out a larger quantity of work, Kuniyoshi’s studio produced many prints of landscapes and beautiful women during the latter part of his career. (3) As the son of a textile artisan who specialized in indigo dyes, Kuniyoshi utilized his knowledge of dying techniques to create bold and intricate blue designs on the clothing of the women in this print. The image exemplifies his light-hearted approach to his subjects by depicting the women walking barefoot with sandals in tow, as if they were caught in the rain by surprise.(4)
Text by Lauren Brooks, undergraduate curatorial intern, 2017
1. Chiappa, J. N. Production of Japanese Woodblock Prints. Accessed May 21, 2017. http://mercury.lcs.mit.edu/~jnc/prints/process.html.
2. Pearle, William. "Triptychs of beautiful women, Part I." Kuniyoshi Project. Accessed May 21, 2017. http://kuniyoshiproject.com/Triptychs%20of%20beautiful%20women,%20Part%20I.htm.
3. Utigawa, Kuniyoshi. A memorial exhibition of the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi: on the 100th anniversary of his death. Memphis: The Gallery, 1961.