Kitano Tsunetomi, Heron Maiden

Kitano Tsunetomi, 1880-1947

Heron Maiden
(Sagi Musume)

with nearly pristine mica ground and hand-applied gofun; signed at upper left, Tsunetomi hitsu, with three cartouches along bottom margin, go-dai (not numbered); with carver and printer's information, Chokoku Yamana Yoshimitsu (carved by Yamana Yoshimitsu), suri Matsuno Kassui (printed by Matsuno Kassui), and publisher's information Nezu Seitaro zohan (copyright of Nezu Seitaro), ca. 1925

obaiban tate-e 21 1/4 by 14 3/8 in., 54.1 by 36.5 cm

Although Kitano Tsunetomi was born in Kanazawa, he moved to Osaka as a young man where he would establish himself as a leading master of bijin-ga, and in his own lifetime, earn recognition as the first Nihonga artist from Osaka. He began his artistic career from 1892 to 1895 as an apprentice at woodblock printing shops in his hometown. In 1897 he worked for the carver Nakayama Komataro, before moving to Osaka in 1898 to study with the painter and print designer Ineno Toshitsune (1858-1907), a former pupil of Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908). In 1899 he began publishing illustrations in the monthly Shin-Nihon ('New Japan') while he also began studying yoga (Western-style painting).

During the first two decades of the new century, Tsunetomi emerged as a leading bijin-ga painter and illustrator. His early work was particularly distinctive; while many artists of this period were portraying women as relatively sweet and innocent, Tsunetomi's beauties were infused with a compelling combination of mysterious sexuality and realistic vulnerabilities. He began self-publishing prints in 1918, starting with the four oban bijin-ga in the Seasons of the Pleasure Quarters set. A denizen of the floating world himself, Tsunetomi was an ardent fan of kabuki. This circa 1925 print, depicting a famous kabuki role, The Heron Maiden, is his grandest and most famous bijin-ga.

References:
Kato, Junzo, comp., Kindai Nihon hanga taikei, 1975-76, Vol. I, pl. 104
Reigle Stephens, Amy, gen. ed., The new wave: Twentieth-century Japanese prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 1993, p. 133, pl. 139
D'Hauterives, Arnaud, La nouvelle vague: L'estampe japonaise de 1868-1939 dans la Collection Robert O. Muller, Musée Marmottan, Institute de France, Académie des Beaux-Arts, 1994, p. 50, pl. 87
Brown, Kendall H., Light in Darkness: Woman in Japanese Prints of Early Showa (1926-1945), 1996, p. 50, cat. 53
Reigle Newland, Amy, and Hamanaka Shinji, The Female Image: 20th century prints of Japanese beauties, 2000, no. 108
Nihon no hanga III 1921-1930, Toshi to onna to hikari to kage to (Japanese Prints III, 1921-1930: Cities and Women, Lights and Shadows), Chiba City Museum of Art, 2001, p. 44, no. 30
Reigle Newland, Amy, gen. ed., Printed to Perfection: Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 2004, p. 67, no. 46
Ukiyo-e Modern, Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijyutsukan, 2005, p. 62, no. 196

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