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Collectors of Meiji prints know names like Kunichika or Chikanobu well. Baido Hosai is not so much in the awareness of friends of Japanese woodblock prints. In my view it is time for a revaluation of this Meiji artist. Baido Hosai's triptychs of kabuki scenes are at least as good as those by his contemporary Kunichika Toyohara.
First Publication: July 2009
Latest Update: April 2004
Japanese artists active before world war II loved to cause name chaos among collectors and art scholars. They did not work under their given name, but received an artist name by their master, once the apprencticeship had ended. OK, so far so good. But it does not stop here. Many printmakers changed their names several times during their career. And sometimes they signed their art works with yet another name.
Hosai Baido is one of the worst in this annoying name game. His original name was Takenouchi Hidehisa. But he is also known as Utagawa Kunimasa IV - a name he took in his early life. In 1889 he took the name of Kunisada III. And later he claimed to be Toyokuni IV. As this name was already taken by someone else he has to be considered to be Toyokuni V.
Baido Hosai made woodblock prints mainly for the kabuki theater. Basically there are two categories. Triptychs with scenes from kabuki plays. And secondly, a large number of actor portraits - mostly in small format.
Another important output of the artist consists of triptychs showing events and court life scenes focused on the imperial couple, emperor and empress Meiji. Baido Hosai simply followed a market trend. Woodblock prints showing scenes from the Meiji court were in popular demand by a public that was in general proud of Japan's military, economic and technical achievements.
According to Helen Merritt (see below), Baido Hosai made also prints with scenes from the Russo-Japanese war. Out of the more than 120 prints by this artist that we sold since 2001, there was not one war print.
But I am sure that this information is true. Nearly all Meiji printmakers were involved in designing prints from the Sino-Japanese (1894-95) or the Russo-Japanese war of 1904/05. Japanese woodblock prints showing the latest news from the front were big business for the Sino-Japanese war - for the Russo-Japanese war less.
Judging on the basis of circa 120 sold woodblock prints by Baido Hosai and more than 800 by Kunichika Toyohara since the establishment of artelino I think that Baido Hosai's prints are at least equal in artistic quality. And in a comparison of kabuki triptychs I would personally value this artist with the ever changing names higher. Baido's designs are more imaginative, the compositions more daring and the designs more diversified.
While Kunichika's kabuki triptychs are often restricted to the display of one kabuki actor on each of the three panels, Baido Hosai often breaks the old ukiyo-e standard that each single panel of a multi-panel print must stand for itself. Also the coloring - for Kunichika prints often rather crude with intensive reds and dark blues, is more subtle on the triptychs designed by Baido Hosai.
151 sold object(s) by Hosai Baido 1848-1920 in our Art Archive
2 signature(s) by Hosai Baido in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, "Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975", published by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1732-X.
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