Learning from Ancient Annual Events
(nko nenju gyojishu)
ehon with blue cover with title slip, Onko nenju gyoji, Senzai Eitaku ga, with red title page (pieces missing), Onko nenchu gyoji, with unread signature and seal, the last illustration signed Senzai Eitaku, dated on the colophon, Meiji jurokunen junigatsu (Meiji 16 , December), and signed Senzai Eitaku, published by Kyukodo in 1883
ehon 8 7/8 by 5 7/8 in., 22.5 by 15 cm
A picture book illustrating traditional celebrations and rituals associated with various events and festivities throughout the year. The title of the publication, Learning from Ancient Annual Events, reflects the Meiji era interest in preserving Japanese culture amidst the overwhelming incursion of foreign influences.
Kobayashi Eitaku (Eitoku) was the son of a fishmonger who studied with the Kano school painter Kano Eitaku Tatsunobu (1814-1891). Early in his career Eitaku was employed by Chief Minister Ii Naosuke (1815-1860) the daimyo of Hakone who granted Eitoku the (soon to be irrelevant) rank of samurai. An influential shogunal advisor, Chief Minister Ii was assassinated outside Edo Castle at the Sakurada Gate on a snowy evening in 1860. Following the murder of his patron, Eitaku began traveling, and eventually would return to Tokyo to settle in the Nihonbashi district. In the spring of 1871 he befriended the artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)-- some accounts regard Eitoku as a student of Yoshitoshi, others reverse the hierarchy. The two artists began a period of exchanging knowledge and that year embarked on a sketch tour together as far as Kofu in Kai province where they apparently had a falling out and parted ways. One wonders if Yoshitoshi regretted sharing his expertise on ukiyo-e style design work as Eitaku would produce illustrations for the same publications that commissioned works from Yoshitoshi, and he illustrated the biography of Ulysses S. Grant by the popular writer Kanagaki Robun, a frequent collaborator of Yoshitoshi's.
Eitaku is also linked to the other great Meiji period ukiyo-e artist, Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), and his painted works display a vitality that suggests a strong influence from the exuberant elder master. Eventually, Eitaku found his own niche and became well-known for his numerous illustrations children's fairy tales by Hasegawa Takejiro (1853-1936) produced as chirimenbon (crepe paper books) in foreign languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Swedish). In contrast, he also produced some of the most extreme erotica of the period, including elaborately painted images of bestiality, and shared Kyosai's interest in death and decay as demonstrated by a handscroll in the British Museum which illustrates the body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition. He was also the teacher of Tomioka Eisen (1864-1905), a distinctive painter who also designed very fine kuchi-e (frontispiece illustrations to serialized novels).
Harvard Art Museum (harvardartmuseums.org), accession no. 1977.122
The British Museum (britishmuseum.org), for the courtesan decomposition handscroll, accession no. 2008,3033.1
Artist Kakunen (Tokutaro) Tsuruoka (1892-1977)
(inv. no. C-1226)
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site last updated
March 4, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
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New York, New York 10019
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