"This is a True Artist"
Shibata Zeshin 柴田是真 (March 15, 1807 – July 13, 1891)
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. 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. 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.”
In 1890, a few months before his death, he was honored by being named Teishitsu Gigeiin (Artist to the Imperial Household.)
Prints in Collection
click on image for details
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
The Demoness (Kijō-zu 鬼女)
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.
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.
Fuji Tagonoura, maki-e (framed lacquer) picture by Shibata Zeshin, 1872
117.5 x 178.5 cm.
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.
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." Among his students were his son Reisai, Ikeda Taishin 池田泰真 (1825-1903), Koami-ise, Inomote Chikugo, Nara Tosa and Matsuno Oshiu. 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."
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."
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.
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." 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."
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" 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.
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)]
Prints designed by Zeshin with calligraphy by high-ranking Meiji Diet members
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
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