Harunobu Boston From the Museum of Fine Arts


  Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-70) is known as the leading Ukiyo-e (“Floating World” picture) artist in the creation of the high quality, multi-colored woodblock-printed Nishiki-e (“Brocade” print). Before the age of Harunobu, there existed only rough color woodblock prints limited to two or three colors (Benizuri-e). The Nishiki-e materialized from a fashion for exchanging privately printed Surimono prints: E-goyomi – illustrated calendars – among samurai and wealthy townspeople at the beginning of the Meiwa Period (1764-72), and a demand for ever colorful, luxurious calendars meant that color-printing technology developed rapidly. Having glimpsed the beauty of the high quality multi-colored-printed picture calendars, publishers were soon to turn them into consumer items under the name “Azuma Nishiki-e”, meaning pictures from Edo as radiant as brocade (nishiki). The birth of Nishiki-e was an important turning point: Harunobu’s exquisite portraits of beauties – naturally vibrant color sensations – dominated the age, with Harunobu as the artist laying the foundation for Ukiyo-e development in many years to come.

Young lovers, mothers and children, informal scenes from everyday life, parodies on classical themes (Mitate-e): Harunobu captured these in limited space, yet in refined, poetic images within his abundant Nishiki-e. The incorporation of Edo beauties and famous places in themes also contributed to the popularization of Nishiki-e. Today, Harunobu’s works remain in very small numbers of copies compared with those of later artists; as more than 80% of extant works by Harunobu are held overseas, opportunities to see his art in Japan are extremely limited. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston prides itself with the best collection in the world both in quality and quantity of its Harunobu Collection, from which 150 items have been chosen here. This exhibition gives a comprehensive view of the artistic activity of Harunobu, and at the same time, by including related works by his predecessors and those he duly influenced, conveys a sense of the times that nurtured him as an Ukiyo-e artist.


Curator Talk: Harunobu (9 min.)
  • Suzuki Harunobu, Parody of Court Lady Tamamushi at the Battle of Yashima, Bequest of Miss Ellen Starkey Bates, 28.195
  • Suzuki Harunobu, The Third Princess and Her Cat, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19508
  • Suzuki Harunobu, Courtesan and Customer at the Ibarakiya (Parody of Watanabe no Tsuna and the Demon Ibaraki Dôji), William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19494
  • Suzuki Harunobu, Travelers at Yatsuhashi (Parody of Yatsuhashi), William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19462
  • Photographs © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston