As an introduction to the exhibition, a display of Beni-e and Benizuri-e by those forerunning artists and Harunobu’s guides, such as Okumura Masanobu (1686-1764), Ishikawa Toyonobu (1711-85), Torii Kiyohiro (dates unknown), alongside some rare early-period works by Harunobu, will show how his style was shaped.
Suzuki Harunobu, Parody of the Three Evening Poems: Teika, Jakuren, and Saigyô, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19703
Ishikawa Toyonobu, Young Couple Burning Maple Leaves to Heat Sake, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19676
left：Suzuki Harunobu, Young Woman in a Summer Shower, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19430
right：Suzuki Harunobu, Parody of Son Kang, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19438
The Mitate-e parodies of Harunobu contain hardly any wording that indicates the original classical theme. Even contemporary viewers would have needed a reasonable education in order to decipher and enjoy the art. They were more likely designed to entertain well-read individuals who could crack the puzzle without the help of words.
Suzuki Harunobu, Parody of Court Lady Tamamushi at the Battle of Yashima, Bequest of Miss Ellen Starkey Bates, 28.195
Suzuki Harunobu, Courtesan and Customer at the Ibarakiya (Parody of Watanabe no Tsuna and the Demon Ibaraki Dôji), William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19494
Over 150 years after the start of the Edo Shogunate, the people of Edo had no memories of warfare and knew nothing but their own peace. Rather than the masculine and powerful, they cherished the delicate, elegant style of Harunobu’s portraits of beauties.
Suzuki Harunobu, Young Man and Woman under a Peach Tree, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19448, 11.19506
Suzuki Harunobu, Associated with Chrysanthemums: Couple Picking, Nellie Parney Carter Collection—Bequest of Nellie Parney Carter, 34.345
Born in sight of Edo Castle at the Shogun’s knee, the newborn’s first bath taken in water running from a pipe, meals of refined white rice, and pampered for every need… “Edokko” (true natives of Edo), the consumers of the artwork, were proud of the fortunes of the city, and through Harunobu’s sympathetic eyes would over again savor the happiness of everyday living there in his Nishiki-e.
Suzuki Harunobu, Wisdom, from the series The Five Virtues, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19456
Suzuki Harunobu, Boys Performing a Lion Dance, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19494
In particular, real young women rated highly for their beauty, such as Osen of the Kagiya teahouse in Kasamori Inari-shrine in Yanaka, and Ofuji of the Motoyanagiya in Sensôji-temple in Asakusa began to feature as the main focus of numerous works.
Another characteristic of Harunobu’s artwork from this era was the inclusion of famous places in Edo within his portraits of beauties. An Edo landmark depicted in the background increased the sense of actuality, and stimulated feelings of belonging in this proud city. Harunobu focused on responding to the interests of the people, and taking the Edo of the day as subject: factors important in indicating directions in the development of later Nishiki-e.
Suzuki Harunobu, Autumn Moon at Komagata, from the series Eight Fashionable Views of Edo, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19500
Suzuki Harunobu, Deutzia Flowers: The Young Woman of Kasamori, from the series Beauties of the Floating World Associated with Flowers, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19515
Lastly, we must acknowledge the great legacy of Harunobu upon the history of Ukiyo-e, be it also through the work of Ukiyo-e artists eager to emulate his work for some time after.
Kitagawa Utamaro, Ofuji and Okita, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.14282
Torii Kiyotsune, In Memory of Harunobu, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.20128
Isoda Koryûsai, Miyuki, from the series Genji in Modern Guise, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19547
Suzuki Harushige (Shiba Kôkan), Couple Cooling Off on a Garden Bench, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.19524
- Photographs © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston