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The Poetic Ukiyo-e Genius Suzuki Harunobu.

Suzuki > Harunobu (1725?-1770) is often cited as one of the great Ukiyo-e print artists, but the magnitude of his reputation as an artist is not matched by the depth of information about the man himself. His death date is one of the few certainties; he died in 1770, perhaps at the age of forty-five. He lived in Edo in the Yonezawa-cho district near the Ryogoku Bridge, and he was probably a pupil of Nishimura Shigenaga (1697?-1756) although itís hard to find any traces in Harunobuís work that might indicate he was educated by him. It is much more likely that he was influenced by the Kyoto artist Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751), whose style is visible in Harunobuís designs. Moreover, Harunobu sometimes copied complete designs by Sukenobu and the fact that his death is recorded in the Nishikawa family record suggests a teacher-pupil relationship.


Harunobu mainly worked in the chuban format and is known for his fragile, sweet, and elegant female figures. His women were from all classes: prostitutes, housewives, court ladies and so forth, and were shown performing all kinds of activities against innovative backgrounds. They are often described as ideal, dreamlike women. Harunobu is also famous for his mitate-e (metaphorical pictures) and he depicted the women of Edo by placing them in modern interpretations of famous scenes from classical stories and subjects.


Snowman, c.1765, Harunobu.

Snowman, c.1765, Harunobu.


Up until around 1765, woodblock prints were coloured either by hand or woodblock printed with a limited palette as seen in benizuri-e, so called because of the dominant use of safflower red (beni). Harunobu too designed a number of benizuri-e. It was also around this time, in 1764-65, that the samurai bannermen (hatamoto) Okubo Jinshiro Tadanobu (1722-1777) and fellow hatamoto Abe Hachinojo Masahiro (d.1777) commisioned Harunobu to design privately published prints for exchange parties of egoyomi (pictorial calendar prints) held at the New Year. 
No expense seems to have been spared in their production, and possibly with the assistance of Harunobuís neighbour, the scholar and author Hiraga Gennai (1728-79), they were
printed using a full range of colours. Full-colour printing, as spawned by these privately issued egoyomi would soon be adopted for commercially produced prints. These commercial full-
colour prints would become known as nishiki-e, or Ďbrocade picturesí, so named because of their association with colourful brocade silks (nishiki).


Harunobu created a sizeable body of work in the last six years of his life. Virtually all his non-erotic prints were in the upright chuban format (c.265 x 195 mm), whereas his numerous erotic prints were horizontal chuban. His most famous albums and series of chuban prints are The Spell of Amorous Love (Enshoku koi no urakata, c.1768-70; cat. no. 14); Eight Fashionable Parlour Views (Furyu zashiki hakkei, c.1768; cat. no. 18); Eight Fashionable Views of Edo (Furyu Edo Hakkei, c.1769; cat. no. 19); and The Fashionable Lusty Maneemon (Furyu enshoku Maneemon, 1770; cat. no. 22), which consists of two albums of twelve prints (see picture below!).


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