Ukiyo-e, a well-liked style of painting that was prevalent in Japan for the greater part of three hundred years, may be broken down into a number of distinct periods due to its length of time in the spotlight. At the height of its popularity, the Ukiyo-e art style was recognised for the meticulous attention to detail that it displayed, particularly in the woodblock prints that were the most major medium of the time.
The first subjects of Ukiyo-e artists in the late seventeenth century were woodblock prints of beautiful women, and these types of prints remained popular until Ukiyo-e fell from prominence in the mid-1800s. While landscapes and scenes of ordinary life became popular towards the end of the Ukiyo-e period, woodblock prints of beautiful women were the first subjects of Ukiyo-e artists. These kinds of prints were commonly referred to as “Kikugawa Eizan was one of the most popular bijin-ga artists of the later part of the Ukiyo-e period. Eizan produced prints for approximately twenty years at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The term “bijin-ga” is Japanese for “beautiful woman.”
Eizan was never trained by Utamaro Kitagawa, but he did study with his father Kikugawa Eijo, who painted fans and other works in the Kano style, and with Shijo artist Suzuki Nanrei. Many people believe that Eizan is a plagiarist because his work imitates the style of Utamaro Kitagawa, who is regarded by many as the greatest Ukiyo-e artist of the late eighteenth century. Kitagawa trained many students who
Eizan’s early work is very closely associated with that of Utamaro, but as his career progressed, he began to develop more of a distinctive style. Eizan’s work is characterised by flowing lines and a sensitivity toward the emotions of the subjects he depicts. When you look at Eizan’s prints, you can almost imagine the shy sensuality of the women he depicted. He also experimented with using children, actors, animals, and landscapes in his prints.
While the last half century of Ukiyo-e art is often seen as a long, slow decline of a once-popular art form, Kikugawa Eizan’s work is often seen as the last great bijin-ga prints to emerge from Ukiyo-e. Some art aficionados have argued that even if his early work was a little too close to that of one of the “greats,” his work taken as a whole represents many of the characteristics that marked fine Ukiyo-e depictions of beautiful women. The characteristics included sensuality, attention to detail, and flowing lines that invite the viewer to run their eyes from one area of the work to the next. It is perhaps fitting, then, that the artist himself preferred to use the word “furyu” to name his series and prints: “furyu” is a Japanese word, which means “stylish” or “elegant”.