Torii Kotondo made only 21 known prints - all of them images of beautiful women. They belong to the finest works of art of the Shin Hanga movement.
Kotondo was born under the real name of Saito Akira in Tokyo. At the age of 15 he was adopted by Torii Kiyotada, head of the Torii family and also known as Torii VII. The famous Torri family has been active in the printmaking business for at least two centuries. Thus Kotondo could call himself Torii VIII after 1941 and later Kiyotada V after his father Kiyotada/Torii VII had died.
Kotondo first studied with Kobori Tomone. When Kotondo was 17 years old, he entered the painting and printmaking school of Kiyokata Kaburagi. Kiyokata Kaburagi's studio was the place where many of the famous Shin Hanga artists like Kawase Hasui or Ito Shinsui received their major art training.
Torii Kotondo made all together 21 bijin-ga - prints depicting beautiful women. They were designed by the artist in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. Publishers were Sakai-Kawaguchi, Kawaguchi and later Ikeda. Some of the designs like Woman wearing a beautiful obi were printed in several color variations.
It is remarkable that Kotondo did not publish his works with Watanabe Shozaburo, who had a dominating role as a publisher of Shin Hanga prints in the Tokyo area. We do not know the reason, but it is hard to believe that Watanabe had not tried to win Kotondo for a cooperation with his publishing firm.
The wide-spread changing of names among Japanese artists can be something rather frustrating for art aficionados who are new to Japanese prints.
From 1937 on, Kotondo began to use the name Kiyonaga. Here is a little list of the many names used by the artist.
The good news for print collectors is that the artist signed all his 21 beauty prints with Kotondo only.
Original prints by Torii Kotondo are very rare as not only the number of designs is limited, but furthermore all original blocks were destroyed before world war II. At the time when this article was updated in 2009 prices for originals are roughly between $ 3,000 and $ 10,000.
In the 1970s a set of 12 reproductions was published by Ishu Kanko Kai under the title Twelve Aspects of Women. They are of excellent quality and the number was kept small, according to some sources to 100 copies per design. This number seems optimistic. Nevertheless, due to their excellent quality and the appealing beauty of the images demand for them is high and collectors and art lovers pay prices close to $ 1,000 for a sheet.
From 1949 on Kotondo's student Tadamasa Ueno was allowed to use the Torii name. And in 1982, 12 years after the death of Tadamasa Ueno and 6 years after the death of Kotondo, his daughter Kiyomitsu became the ninth head of the Torii dynasty of painters and printmakers. She was the first woman to be appointed. Even in Japan the times are changing - although slowly.
Author: Dieter Wanczura