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Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912)

Chikanobu was one of the leading woodblock print artists of the Meiji era, producing hundreds of high-quality print designs of a variety of subjects.

Early life

Born in 1838 in Niigata Prefecture, Chikanobu was the older of two sons. His father was a samurai, a retainer of the Sakakibara clan. He studied Kano school painting as a child and developed an interest in ukiyo-e in his teens. He studied with Kuniyoshi and then with Kunisada and Kunichika.

During the Meiji Restoration, he joined the Tokugawa shogun’s elite samurai brigade, the shogitai, and fought against the emperor’s forces in the Battle of Ueno and the Battle of Hakodate. After the fall of the shogun, he went to Tokyo and started to make a living as a woodblock print artist.

Woodblock printing

Chikanobu began his new career designing prints of kabuki scenes and actors in the styles of Kunisada and Kunichika. But over the years he developed his own distinctive style. It was more delicate, intricate, and sophisticated, with a beautiful array of colors. He started to take on more varied subjects. The customs, manners, and styles of women were favorite subjects. He did scenes from historical events and legendary tales, including military prints documenting the Sino-Japanese War and many other battles from the Meiji period and earlier. For a period of time, his prints showcased the modernization of Meiji Japan, but they later turned back to more traditional Japanese culture.

Chikanobu's prints were released by a number of different publishers, mostly in Tokyo. The level of detail and deluxe printing techniques resulted in some of the best prints produced in the Meiji era. His beautifully detailed designs were quite popular during his lifetime and many of the single prints and triptychs commanded high prices at the time.

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