GUIMET Museum: From the monochrome print to the "images of brocade"

From January 22 to 10 March 2014.
At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, Japan witnessed a renaissance of woodcutting, which until then had focused on religious images (ofuda). Movement Ukiyo-e, "Images of the Floating World", is characterized by the unpublished development of genre painting on various supports: screens, rolls and calendars. Contrasting colors, an exuberance of attitudes and expressions, an essay on the transcription of subjects characterize his style.

The development of this genre painting accompanies the economic boom of Edo, capital since 1603. She gives birth to sheets of prints (ichimai-e) whose subjects focus on portraiture - legendary heroes, actors or beautiful women -, genre scenes and the illustration of classic or contemporary historical novels. In Edo, the rise of the illustrated printed book (ehon) accompanies that of a popular literature: poetic collections, novels or guides. The chosen technique is that of monochrome printing with Indian ink (sumizuri-e).
The first print artists to use color in the XNUMXth century were Hishikawa Moronobu, founder of the genre, and Nishikawa Sukenobu. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, they were followed by painters from the Kaigetsudô school, whose studio was located near the Yoshiwara gate, the pleasure district in Edo.

A first coloring of the illustrations, after 1615, uses a red-orange (so) which will be replaced to 1740 by a pinkish red pigment of plant origin (beni). All the eighteenth century is punctuated by the rapid diversification of colorful effects: towards 1730, adding a lacquered black (Urushi-e) for the hair, the belts (obi), furniture details. Around 1740, beni red was associated with a green pigment of plant origin.

A new phase coincides with the abandonment of the brush and the use of printing blocks. Thanks to the progressive use of a marker (Kento) on each printing plate, allowing a perfect repositioning, the polychromy knows no more limits. The benizuri-e, prints printed in two or three colors around 1750, are only an ephemeral stage before the advent in 1765 of real polychrome images, known as “brocade images” (Azuma nishiki-e).

Attributed to Suzuki Harunobu, the paternity of these so-called brocade images (Azuma nishiki-e), by at least visual analogy with the shimmering silk weaving of Nishijin and the Kyôto region, remains the claimed prerogative of Edo; it is also the case for a certain number of artists solicited, to the highest degree of their talent, by patrons keen on poetic improvisation (haiku), sponsors of their delicate image. The images of lunar calendars egoyomi, published privately between 1764 and1766 by Harunobu and its circle, likewise constitute an archetype of the polychrome print as a coded image, carrying literary or mythological allusions.


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