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Kawanabe Kyosai was a drinker and a genius, a painter and printmaker of the weird, the comic and the obscure. He belonged to the generation of ukiyo-e artists in transformation from the Edo to the Meiji period, from the Middle Ages to a Modern Industrialized Society.
First Publication: MAy 2002
Latest Update: February 2014
In August 2000 a painting by Kawanabe Kyosai on a two-fold screen was hammered at 400,000 British Pounds at Christie's in London, the highest price ever paid for a painting of the Meiji era.
Kawanabe Kyosai was born with the original name of Shusaburo as the son of a samurai. When he was only 6 years old, he joined the school of the great ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Later he studied traditional Japanese painting at the Kano school.
Kawanabe Kyosai was an eccentric guy who exaggerated everything he did - from his consumption of sake wine to his painting and printmaking style. With his fellow artists Kunichika and Kobayashi Kiyochika, Kyosai frequently went on drinking binges. Like Kunichika he was great in inventing great stories.
The output of Kawanabe Kyosai's creativity was enormous. At the end of his life, he had produced hundreds of paintings, prints and illustrated books.
The paintings and print subjects of Kyosai are from traditional to bizarre and fantastic. He was incredibly imaginative and created designs that have no relations to any known art works of any other Japanese or Western artists. His drawing style was unique and at the same time he was capable of painting in the finest traditional style of a 18th century painter.
Many of his designs are comic, satiric, humorous and sketchy. Others are strange, weird and frightening.
Kawanabe Kyosai always had a lively interest in Western art. But he was never interested in imitating it.
When Westerners came into the country, Kyosai came into contact with several of them like Ernest Fenollosa. Two foreigners became especially important in documenting Kyosai's biography. One was Emile Guimet, who visited him in 1876 in Japan and later wrote his memories down in an essay titled Promenades Japonaises.
The other source of documentation of the artist's life and works became Josiah Conder, a British architect, who became his student in 1877. Josiah Conder stayed with Kyosai until his death in 1889. Back in England, Josiah Conder wrote a book, published in 1911 titled Paintings and Studies by Kawanabe Kyosai.
John Teramoto, curator of Asian Art, explains a Daruma scroll painting made by Kyosai Kawanabe. Concise, precise and quite interesting.
134 sold object(s) by Kyosai Kawanabe 1831-1889 in our Art Archive
2 signature(s) by Kyosai Kawanabe in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
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