Shibata Zeshin

"This is a True Artist"

Shibata Zeshin 柴田是真 (March 15, 1807 – July 13, 1891)

PROFILE

Known as the last master of surimono (privately commissioned prints, often commissioned by poetry clubs), Shibata was a prolific artist of many talents - an innovative lacquerer (having been called "Japan's greatest lacquer"), a woodblock print designer, a painter.[1] He won international acclaim with his lacquer works exhibited in the 1873 Vienna International Exposition, the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition and the 1899 Exposition Universelle in Paris.[2]  As a painter, he was known as one of the most distinguished Shijō school painters. His woodblock print of two crows flying at sunset (shown below) is iconic in the kacho-e genre.

The word iki is often used in describing Zeshin’s work and can be “defined as the quality of being light and unconstrained, gallant but not obstinate, playful but never tiresome.”[3]

In 1890, a few months before his death, he was honored by being named Teishitsu Gigeiin (Artist to the Imperial Household.)[4]

[1] "Zeshin Redux", Orientations, Vol. 29, No. 2, Joe Earle, March, 2008, p. 136.

[2] An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, 25June-9 July 1976, Milne Henderson (gallery), 1976, unpaginated.

[3] Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection,  Joe Earle and Sebastian Izzard, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007, p. 15.

[4] Ibid, p. 14.

Prints in Collection

click on image for details

 IHL Cat. #2044 

Lacquer tray with objects and poems (surimono), January 1869 or January 1870

image: 7 5/8 x 20 5/16 in. (19.4 x 51.6 cm)

sheet: 7 5/8 x 20 7/8 in. (19.4 x 52.9 cm)

 IHL Cat. #2041 

Pine branches and poems (surimono), c. 1865-1880s

image: 4 1/16 x 10 11/16 in. (10.3 x 27.1 cm)

sheet: 4 1/4 x 10 13/16 in. (10.8 x 27.5 cm)

 IHL Cat. #2043 

Morning glory vine, pin cushion and poems (surimono),

August 1877

image: 6 5/8 x 10 3/16 in. (16.4 x 25.9 cm)

sheet: 6 7/8 x 10 11/16 in. (17.1 x 27.1 cm)

 IHL Cat. #2042 

Morning glory flowers, calligraphy brush and poems (surimono), c. 1865-1880s

image: 6 1/16 x 10 3/8 in. (15.4 x 26.4 cm)

sheet: 6 5/16 x 11 3/16 in. (16 x 28.4 cm)

IHL Cat. #2045 

Illustration of Komatsu-hiki, 1891

image: 7 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (19.7 x 11.4 cm)

sheet: 8 7/8 x 5 1/16 in. (22.5 x 12.9 cm)

IHL Cat. #2228 

Wooden rice tub and nori  from Shibata Zeshin Picture Book: Yamato Nishiki

c. 1880s

image: 6 3/4 x 9 1/2 in. (17.1 x 24.1 cm)

sheet:  8 1/2 x 11 7/16 in. (21.6 x 29.1 cm)

IHL Cat. #2227 

Two stacks of bamboo baskets and a spray of blue iris from Shibata Zeshin Picture Book: Yamato Nishiki, c. 1880s

image: 6 1/4 x 7 7/8 in. (16.5 x 20 cm)

sheet:  8 9/16 x 11 1/2 in. (21.7 x 29.2 cm)

IHL Cat. #2226 

Bird resting on a bamboo carrying device from Shibata Zeshin Picture Book: Yamato Nishiki,

c. 1880s

image: 6 7/16 x 8 1/8 in. (16.4 x 20.6 cm)

sheet:  8 9/16 x 11 1/2 in. (21.7 x 29.2 cm)

IHL Cat. #2267 

Three Crows Flying at Sunset, c. 1930s (orig. 1887/1888)

image: 9 1/2 x 10 1/8 in. (24.1 x 26 cm)

sheet:9 1/2 x 10 1/8 in. (24.1 x 26 cm)

Biography

And so this Zeshin, master craftsman with eye of genius for little things, was perfection.

Alan Priest, Curator of Far Eastern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Biography compiled primarily  from the following sources: An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, 25 June-9 July 1976, Milne Henderson (gallery), 1976; The Art of Shibata Zeshin: The Mr and Mrs James E O'Brien Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Mary Louise O'Brien, Martin Foulds, Howard A Link, Robert G Sawers PublishersZeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection,”  Joe Earle and Sebastian Izzard, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007

Self-portrait, 1883

woodblock print

signed: Shibata Zeshin at the age of

seventy-six

source: Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection,”  Joe Earle and Sebastian Izzard, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007, p. 16.

Zeshin, was born in the Ryōgoku district of Edo on February 7, 1807 with the given name Kametarō II. The family name, Shibata, came from his mother's family, into which his father, Ichigorō, agreed to be adopted to keep the Shibata family name alive, after marrying the Shibata's only daughter Masu. His father was a master carpenter, as was his father's father. It is said that Masu for a time was forced to work as a geisha after her family fell on hard times and that this instilled in her a desire to "live simply and to avoid distinctive attire, since class could be deduced immediately from a person's dress" a way of living that was passed on to her son and could be seen in Zeshin's manner of dress for the rest of his life.[1]

Zeshin's talent for painting was evident at a young age and at the age of 11 he was apprenticed to Koma Kansai II 古満寛哉 (1766–1835), a famous lacquerer with "special arrangements with the shogunal authorities for the production of sets of boxes and utensils necessary for  important ceremonies and events" and a clientele drawn from a  rising urban merchant class.[2] In 1822, at the age of 15, he studied for a short while with the innovative Edo based Shijō painter Suzuki Nanrei 鈴木南嶺 (1775–1844), specifically to improve his painting technique related to his lacquer work, who would later give him his art name (gō) Zeshin, meaning "this is [a] true [artist].[3] 

In 1824 he met the famous ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798-1861), with whom he would develop a long friendship, sometimes working together as they did on a number of surimono during the Kai era (1847-1852). 

At around the age of 20, Zeshin was confident enough to establish himself as an independent lacquer artist.

In 1830, Zeshin travelled to Kyoto to study with the famous Shijō painter Okamoto Toyohiko 岡本豊彦 (1773–1845), a former student of Suzuki Nanrei, who excelled in landscape painting and is credited with shaping Zeshin's future landscape paintings. Literature, poetry and the tea ceremony would also be part of his studies while in Kyoto, with haiku, seriously studied on his return to Edo, becoming a "life-long attachment."[4] During his time in Kyoto it is reported that he became a student of the famous Confucian scholar, historian and calligrapher Rai San'yō (1781-1832).

Returning to Edo in 1832, he would move into a house in the Asakusa District, where he would remain the rest of his life. Upon returning to Edo he would undertake extensive study of the great lacquer artists which included  seven months of research in Kyoto. In Edo, he would actively court private commissions, the most famous being the 1840 painted votive panel, The Demoness (Kijō-zu), based on the legend of the Ibaraki Demoness, commissioned by the Tokyo Sugar Foundation and dedicated to the Tokyo's Ōji Inari Shrine. In 1934, almost 100 years after its creation, the painting was officially recognized as an Important Art Object by the Japanese government.[5] 

The Demoness (Kijō-zu  鬼女)

color and gold on wood 

64.17 x 87.4 in. (163 x 222 cm)

Depicting the moment the Ibaraki demoness flies off after taking back her arm sliced off by the samurai Watanabe no Tsuna.

About Lacquered Pieces

Works by Shibata Zeshin in the Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection

The wooden core of a lacquered piece undergoes a long process of shaping and seasoning to create a stable base, which is then impregnated with raw lacquer to make it waterproof. Craftsmen apply coat after coat of progressively refined urushi resin [a toxic substance] to the wood, carefully polishing the layers with increasingly refined abrasives and drying each layer, until the resin hardens into a shiny, impermeable shell. Often, the surface is painted with delicate designs in variously colored lacquers, sometimes to complement a relief carved into the base. Other times, a design is cut into the hardened layers of lacquer then filled with color or precious metal. In the style known as maki-e, an illustration is created by applying gold, silver, tin or mother of pearl in leaf, flake, or powder form. This is sprinkled over the decorative lacquer while it is still tacky to create an opulent metallic sheen.

sources: compiled from https://www.thejapaneseshop.co.uk/japanese-lacquer-work/ and "Rêves de laque, le Japon de Shibata Zeshin," Alain Truong

images source: http://www.alaintruong.com/archives/2012/04/05/23935907.html

Candy container ( kashiki ) decorated with flowers. Lacquer on calabash. Decor in black and gold lacquer, highlights with mother-of-pearl inlays, lip imitating rosewood: 9.5 x 14.6. Around 1860-1890. Signed “Zeshin” in gold lacquer.

Stationery box ( ryōshibako ) decorated with the attributes of the Seven Gods of Happiness. Colored lacquer on wood. Decor in lacquer sprinkled with gold and black lacquer, highlights with mother-of-pearl inlays. 35.6 x 26.7 x 11.4cm. About 1860—1870. Signed “Zeshin” and initials, both incised.

Netsuke in the form of a sparrow. Lacquer on wood; Green bronze background (seido nuri) and polished black, gold and silver decoration, 3.8 x 4.1 x 1.9 cm, circa 1860 – 1890. Signed “Zeshin” in incised ideograms.

Always searching for new lacquer techniques, in the 1830s and 1840s, a time of economic and social crisis, during which the government made various attempts to control spending on luxuries, including limiting the use of gold and silver in lacquer work, Zeshin developed techniques using cheaper materials, although these techniques demanded more time and skill. Among other decorative techniques he developed or perfected were the use of black lacquers with tone-on-tone decoration and lacquers imitating iron or bronze or the fine texture of rosewood.

In 1848, Zeshin married and in 1850 his first child Kametarō III (later named Reisai) was born. In 1854 he suffered the death of both his mother, Masu, and his wife, Suma. He would marry again in 1858 and have a second son Shinjirō, later called Shinsai, and also known as Shibata Shin'ya. His second wife would die in 1863.

In the years before the Meiji reformation Shibata would, while dealing with personal tragedy and natural disasters that negatively affected the lacquer market, continue to study lacquer technique making important innovations in the art. 

While Zeshin, like many other Edoites, initially disapproved of the new government which came to power in 1868, reportedly declining a commission by Emperor Meiji, he accepted an invitation to represent Japan at the 1873 Vienna International Exposition and produced the work Fuji Tagonoura. 

Fuji Tagonoura, maki-e (framed lacquer) picture by Shibata Zeshin, 1872

117.5 x 178.5 cm.

SHIBATA ZESHIN 柴田是真 (1807-1891) URUSHI-E (LACQUER PAINTING) OF MARE'S-TAIL, FERNS, AND BUTTERFLY

杉菜蕨胡蝶図額装漆絵

circa 1880-1890

Urushi (lacquer) on paper, the foreground embellished with gold flakes, depicting three warabi (edible ferns), one of them placed so the head is out of view and another with a butterfly perched on its top, two fertile heads of sugina (mare's-tail), and two tall and several smaller sterile stems of sugina

Signed Zeshin 是真 with seal Tairyūkyo 対柳居

Overall 45.4 × 42.3 cm (17 7/8 × 16 5/8 in.)

Image 26.5 × 23.7 cm (10¾ × 9 3/8 in.)

In the 1870s, his framed lacquer paintings and hanging scrolls would bring him honors. During this time he developed a method for preparing and applying "a lacquer flexible and strong enough to withstand cracking when unrolled or fading when exposed to strong light... and the urushi-e (lacquer picture) of the Meiji period" became associated with Zenshin's name.[6]

During the 1870s and 1880s Zeshin would serve on a number of official committees (including the Art Committee of the Imperial Household), continue his prolific output, participate in the 1886 decoration of the new Imperial Palace, exhibit domestically and internationally (continuing to be awarded top honors), and in 1890, shortly before his death, established the Japan Lacquer Association.

As a teacher, Zeshin reportedly told his students that he did not wish them to be known as "a pupil of Zeshin's, but rather as a great artist who studied under a man called Zeshin."[7]  Among his students were his son Reisai, Ikeda Taishin 池田泰真 (1825-1903), Koami-ise, Inomote Chikugo, Nara Tosa and Matsuno Oshiu.[8] Among woodblock print artists, it is reported that Utagawa Kuniyoshi took instruction from him, as did one of Kuniysohi's students, Utagawa Yoshitama (1836-1870), and Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林清親 (1847-1915).

On October 11, 1890,  Emperor Meiji designated Zeshin a Teishitsu Gigeiin (Artist to the Imperial Household). Nine months later on July 13, 1891 he would die after a sudden illness. In October of the following year the Emperor would present his son Reisai with a commemorative set of silver chalices and an imperial citation noting his unique contributions to lacquer techniques, his inspiration to fellow and junior colleagues and "his genius."[9]

While he had gained fame in the West, his work was largely ignored by Japanese art historians until the last 30 years or so, but one art historian and scholar of Japanese literature Fukioka Sakutarō (1870-1910)  wrote not only about his lacquer innovations but also his paintings, observing, "By painting a few things so that they seem to overflow beyond the edges of the paper, he achieved the same emotional impact as the haiku master does with his little seventeen-syllable verses."[10]

Shibata Zeshin, White Heron and Raven Flying, circa 1880. Vertical scroll, colored lacquer painting (urushi-e), white pigment and gold leaf on paper. 41.9 x 60.6 cm, circa 1880. Signed “Zeshin sei” (“made by Zeshin”) Seal “Tairyūkyo” (“House in front of the willows”). Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection, San Antonio Museum of Art Collection Catherine and Thomas Edson, San Antonio Museum of Art.

[1] An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, 25 June-9 July 1976, Milne Henderson (gallery), 1976, unpaginated.

[2] Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection, Joe Earle and Sebastian Izzard, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007, p. 18.

[3] Zeshin’s Shijo Surimono and His Later Shikishiban Prints," by Robert Schaap, appearing in Andon 102, Journal of the Society for Japanese Arts, autumn 2016, p. 56

[4] The Art of Shibata Zeshin: The Mr and Mrs James E O'Brien Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Mary Louise O'Brien, Martin Foulds, Howard A Link, Robert G Sawers Publishers, p. 21.

[5] Ibid.

[6} Ibid, p. 23

[7] Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibata_Zeshin

[8] As to the students Koami-ise, Inomote Chikugo, Nara Tosa and Matsuno Oshiu, listed in the article "The Life of Shibata Zeshin" appearing in The Far East Vol. II., No. 1, January 20, 1897,  p. 348, this article is the only mention of them I have come across.

[9] The Art of Shibata Zeshin, p. 25.

[10] Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection, p. 14.

Woodblock Prints

While taking a back seat to Shibata's lacquer work and painting, woodblock prints played an important role in his oeuvre being described as "a bridge between the landscape paintings and the simpler subject matter treated in the lacquer decoration."[1] Commenting in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Prints, John Fiorillo states "Print designs made after his drawings often employed lacquering and other de-luxe printing techniques, with painterly brushwork vividly translated  into the medium of the woodblock." He goes on to describe Zeshin's prints as as "Characterized by attention to expressive detail, fondness for everyday things and sympathetic humor."[2] 

His friendship with Utagawa Kuniyoshi, the famous ukiyo-e artist, "brought him into contact with the huge Edo publishing industry that supported printmakers of the Ukiyo-e school"[3] and over his lifetime he created hundreds, if not thousands, of designs, specializing in privately commissioned surimono, the designs for which often found re-use by publisher's as square-format shikishiban, as shown below.

Privately published surimono in 1876 or 1888 issued to celebrate Zeshin's birthday (right) and later issued shikishiban format print (left) issued by Daikokuya with a very similar black Okina mask.

source: "Zeshin's Shijō surimono and his later shikishiban prints," by Robert Schapp, Andon 102, Journal of the Society of Japanese Arts, October 2016, p. 59.

A 1849 collaborative surimono with Utagawa Kuniyoshi, with Kuniyoshi contributing the portraits of the actors Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Ushiwakamaru (left) and Ichikawa Ebizō V as Kiichi Hōgen in a folding album and Shibata contributing the flowering gourd, the symbol of Danjūrō VIII.

[print size: 16 15/16 x 20 in. (43 x 51 cm)]

source: The Kuniyoshi Project by William Pearl

Hana kurabe (Comparison of flowers) 

Among Zeshin's better known print designs is a series titled Hana kurabe (Comparison of flowers) published by Shūgyokudo between c. 1875-1890 consisting of 120 chūban size prints, some with gold, silver and mica highlights.  It has been noted that "Zeshin used the physical perimeter of the prints as a given arbitrary frame so that he could truncate his objects at will.,” as can be seen in the print Pilgrim monks, below on the left and in this collection's print Three Crows Flying at Sunset, shown above.[4]

Pilgrim monks ascending a hill from the series Hana kurabe,

c. 1875-1880

H x W (image): 15.7 x 22.3 cm (6 3/16 x 8 3/4 in) 

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art FSC-GR-727.6 

Pilgrim monks ascending a hill from the series Hana kurabe,

c. 1875-1880

H x W (image): 15.9 x 22.5 cm (6 1/4 x 8 7/8 in)

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art FSC-GR-727.1 

Bonsai trees seen through a hole in a wall from the series

Hana kurabe,

c. 1875-1880

H x W (image): 18.3 x 25.1 cm (7 3/16 x 9 7/8 in)

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art S1996.85.10 

Prints designed by Zeshin with calligraphy by high-ranking Meiji Diet members

A series of six prints, three of which are shown below, designed "by Zeshin with calligraphy by ministers who held high posts in the Meiji Diet, after having opposed the previous Bakufu government."[5]

Devil's prayer (Oni no nenbutsu), c. 1880

calligraphy by Hōko

H x W: 36.2 x 24.1 cm (14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in) 

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art  S2003.8.2161 

Sleeping samurai aide-de-camp, c. 1880 

calligraphy by Ōkuga Toshimichi

H x W: 36.2 x 24.1 cm (14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in)

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art S2003.8.2160  

Plumb branch under Japanese umbrella, c. 1880 

calligraphy by Naoyoshi

H x W: 36.2 x 24.1 cm (14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in)

Other Prints 

Shibata designed this print, the centerfold illustration, for the 1867 illustrated book (e-hon) Shadows without Shading

(Kuma naki kage 隈那き影 )

9 3/4 x 7 3/16 in. (24.8 x 18.2 cm)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2013,866 and JIB117 

Man carrying a bundle of irises in rain, date unknown

(print for uchiwa)

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art S2003.8.2170 

Rooster, Hen and Chicks, 1876-1879

H x W (image): 25.8 x 38 cm (10 3/16 x 14 15/16 in)

Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art S1996.93 


Crayfish, c. 1893

sheet: 11 9/16 x 17 1/3 in. (29.4 x 44.0 cm)

Art Gallery NSW 361.1977 

[1]  An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, 25June-9 July 1976, Milne Henderson (gallery), 1976, unpaginated.

[2] The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, p. 486.

[3] The Art of Shibata Zeshin: The Mr and Mrs James E O'Brien Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Mary Louise O'Brien, Martin Foulds, Howard A Link, Robert G Sawers Publishers, p. 21.

[4] An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, unpaginated

[5] Ibid.

Artist Names (gō), Signatures and Seals of the Artist

Artist Names: Shibata Junzō 柴田順蔵, Shibata Kametarō 柴田亀太郎, Tanzen (Senzen) 儃然, Chinryūtei 沈柳亭, Koma 古満, Reiya (Reisai) 令哉, Tairyūkyo 対柳居

Seals of the Artist

click on image to enlarge

source: compiled from  An Exhibition of Prints, Paintings and Lacquer by Shibata Zeshin, 25 June-9 July 1976, Milne Henderson (gallery), 1976, unpaginated.

Signatures of the Artist (a sampling)

Most signature on Zeshin's woodblock prints use the two characters 是真, a signature he frequently used between about 1832 and 1873, after which he grew into the habit of adding either his age or the year of his work.

77 years old Zeshin 

81 years old Zeshin 


82 years old Zeshin

Baitei Zeshin

梅亭是真

[Rijksmuseum RP-P-1991-591] 

(note: an unusual signature for Zeshin, appearing on a surimono)