Keisan Eisen



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Keisai Eisen was the son of the calligrapher Ikeda Shigeharu and lived in Edo. He was initially a pupil of the painter Kanō Hakkeisai ({狩野 白珪斎), then of the ukiyoe artist Kikugawa Eizan (菊川 英山, 1787-1867), who was only three years his senior. As an ukiyoe artist, he was active in the Bunsei and Tempō eras, i.e. the years between 1818 and 1844.

He was a prolific artist who focussed on paintings of beautiful women (美人画, Bijinga), erotica and landscapes. Among them are the 24 designs he created for the series ‘Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Kaidō’ (木曽街道六十九次, Kiso Kaidō rokujūkyū tsugi); the remaining designs are by Hiroshige. His paintings of beautiful women are characterised by stocky figures, broad necks and round shoulders. An example of this type is the work entitled Oiran (花魁 ‘Courtesan’) in the Sakai collection, which Vincent van Gogh copied.

Eisen produced the earliest evidence of the so-called ‘Blue Revolution’ in ukiyo-e, an exclusively blue and white fan print of a Chinese landscape from 1829. This use of the colour Berlin blue influenced Katsushika Hokusai, among others: blue dominates several works in the series ‘36 Views of Mount Fuji’, including The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

In addition to being an artist, Eisen was also active as a writer. His essays appeared under the pseudonyms Mumeiō and Kaedegawa Shiin. His best-known work is the Essays of a Nameless Old Man (無名翁随筆 Mumeiō zuihitsu) from 1833, which is a revision of a collection of woodblock artist biographies (浮世絵類考 Ukiyo-e ruikō) first compiled by Ōta Nampo in 1789. He published light fiction as Ippitsuan Kakō, and his kabuki plays appeared under the pseudonym Chiyoda Saiichi.

Eisen pursued other activities, such as selling cosmetic face powder and running a brothel in Nezu under the name Wakatakeya Satosuke.