Shibata Zeshin was the epitome of a traditional Japanese artist and artisan. He was forty-seven years old when Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, which marked the end of the old era. He lived and worked for another 37 years continuing his style unimpressed by Western art as if nothing had changed.
First Publication: July 2002
Latest Update: April 2013
Shibata was born in Tokyo when it was still called Edo. His father was a sculptor. At age eleven the young Shibata entered the workshop of a lacquer craftsman. Later he studied painting under Suzuki Nanrei and Okamoto Toyohiko.
Zeshin was an artist and artisan of superior skill and diversity. He worked as a painter, print maker and lacquerer. The use of urushi, a black Japanese lacquer, was one of his specialities and made him unique.
Zeshin was also an ukiyo-e print maker. But the emphasis of his artistic and artisan production was on painted screens and on all kinds of lacquerware utensils - inro, boxes, cups, panels and screens. As lacquerer he invented and introduced several new techniques. One was called seido-nuri - a way to imitate the patina of old bronze.
Zeshin's art style is traditional and conservative - ultra conservative may be a better word to describe it. The depicted subjects are taken from nature or from Japanese legends and history.
Zeshin Shibata remained untouched by all the domestic turmoil in Japan during the transition from the old Edo period to the era of modernization during the Meiji period.
He was very successful and his art work became a kind of showcase of the official Japan for the world outside. Zeshin participated as official representative of Japan in international exhibitions in Vienna in 1875, in Philadelphia in 1876 and in Paris.
Towards the end of his life the artist became a member of the Imperial Art Academy. And in 1890, one year before his death, he was appointed as member of the Art Committee of the Imperial household - one of the highest honors in those days.
Here are a few more examples of Zeshin Shibata woodblock prints. They were all sold in our Japanese art auctions. The most popular one has been Crows in Flight at Sunrise.
105 sold object(s) by Zeshin Shibata 1807-1891 in our Art Archive
10 signature(s) by Zeshin Shibata in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
Laurance, P.Roberts, "A Dictionary of Japanese Artists", John Weatherhill Inc., New York, 1976.
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