Torii Kiyonaga

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Snowball Fight, by Torii Kiyonaga, from the series Children at Play in Twelve Months, 1787, woodblock print, Honolulu Museum of Art, accession 15966 'Snowball Fight', by Torii Kiyonaga, 1787, Honolulu Museum of Art, 15966.JPG
Snowball Fight, by Torii Kiyonaga, from the series Children at Play in Twelve Months, 1787, woodblock print, Honolulu Museum of Art, accession 15966
Bathhouse Women Kiyonaga bathhouse women-2.jpg
Bathhouse Women

Torii Kiyonaga (Japanese : 鳥居 清長; 1752 – June 28, 1815) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the Torii school. Originally Sekiguchi Shinsuke, the son of an Edo bookseller, [1] from Motozaimokuchō Itchōme in Edo, he took on Torii Kiyonaga as an art name. Although not biologically related to the Torii family, he became head of the group after the death of his adoptive father and teacher Torii Kiyomitsu.


The master Kiyomitsu died in 1785; since his son died young, and Kiyotsune, Kiyonaga's senior, was a less promising artist, Kiyonaga was the obvious choice to succeed Kiyomitsu to leadership of the Torii school. However, he delayed this for two years, likely devoting time to his bijin-ga and realizing the immense responsibility that would fall on his shoulders once he took over the school. Thus, in 1787, he began organizing the production of kabuki signboards and the like, which the school held a near monopoly on. He also began to train Kiyomitsu's grandson, Torii Kiyomine, who was to succeed him.

Artistic career

Cooling on Riverside Kiyonaga Riverside01.JPG
Cooling on Riverside

Torii Kiyonaga began his training under Torii Kiyomitsu in 1765 at the age of 14 years old. It is suspected that prior to entering the Torii school he may have trained under Isoda Koryūsai, Suzuki Harunobu, and Kitao Shigemasa, as much of Kiyonaga's work shows influence from these other ukiyo-e masters. Many of his early works were billboards and depictions of actors based on his visits to nearby kabuki theatres. The highlight of his career is when he began to produce pieces of beautiful women. In addition Torii Kiyonaga created illustrations for books and picture programs called banzuke. [1]

Kiyonaga is considered one of the great masters of the full-color nishiki-e print and of bijin-ga , images of courtesans and other beautiful women. Like most ukiyo-e artists, however, he also produced a number of prints and paintings depicting Kabuki actors and related subjects, many of them promotional materials for the theaters. He also produced a number of shunga , or erotic images, including two adaptations of Harunobo's Zashiki Hakkei . [2]

In the field of bijin-ga, only the works of Harunobu and a handful of others are generally regarded comparable with those of Kiyonaga. Kiyonaga produced a great many bijin-ga prints in the 1780s, and this is generally regarded as his high point; this is particularly true because he nearly stopped doing art entirely in the early 1790s. Some scholars point out the beauty of his paintings as being particularly exceptional given his commoner heritage and upbringing. Adopted into the Torii family, Kiyonaga's biological father was the owner of a number of tenements near a fish market; though his family may not have been particularly poor, he was certainly not brought up in an environment of high culture. Meanwhile, contemporary artists of the samurai class, who would be expected to have a better innate sense of the aesthetics and details of aristocratic culture, produced images quite arguably inferior to those of Kiyonaga.

The women in Kiyonaga's prints are often described as exceptionally tall, seeming fuller, and more mature than those of his predecessor Harunobu, whose prints often depict women who seem younger and thinner. Though a difference of personal styles accounts for this primarily, it also comes in part from Kiyonaga's use of larger sheets of paper (ōban, rather than chūban or hosoban [3] ).

Kiyonaga's works broke the mold of many previous artists. A great proportion of Kiyonaga's work is in diptych or triptych form, making the work seem larger and more impressive overall. Due to the large size of his prints many of his works with beautiful women also feature a scenic background illustrated with the Western concept of perspective. [1] His prints are also well known for the variance and richness in colors. [4]

Just as Kiyonaga can be said to have replaced the earlier Harunobu as the most popular bijinga artist of his time, so Kiyonaga can be said to have been replaced by Utamaro, whose women are even fuller and more mature than those of the former.

Kiyonaga's kabuki prints, depicting scenes on stage and the like, show a great attention to detail, and seek to depict real Kabuki scenes, rather than idealized versions. There is something very plain about much of his depictions, showing that those depicted are in fact actors and not the true idealized characters they represent; however, he did not make the leap to portraying the individual features and personalities of the actors as some other artists (including the Katsukawa school) did. Some scholars label his style as an important intermediary step leading to the bombastic, yet realistic, style of Sharaku.

In 1794, when Utamaro became the lead bijin-ga artist, Torii Kiyonaga shifted his artistic focus to surimono, illustrations, and paintings. His last known print dates from 1813, two years before he died. [1]

In Philately

Kiyonaga’s works have been featured several times in commemorative postage stamps issued by the Japanese post office:


His work is held in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, [5] the Brooklyn Museum, [6] the Princeton University Art Museum, [7] the Fairfield University Museum, [8] the Smart Museum of Art, [9] the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [10] the Philadelphia Museum of Art, [11] the Walters Art Museum, [12] the Harvard Art Museums, [13] the Portland Art Museum, [14] the British Museum, [15] the University of Michigan Museum of Art, [16] and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. [17]

Related Research Articles

<i>Ukiyo-e</i> Genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries

Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term ukiyo-e (浮世絵) translates as "picture[s] of the floating world".

Suzuki Harunobu Japanese Ukiyo-e artist

Suzuki Harunobu was a Japanese designer of woodblock print art in the Ukiyo-e style. He was an innovator, the first to produce full-color prints (nishiki-e) in 1765, rendering obsolete the former modes of two- and three-color prints. Harunobu used many special techniques, and depicted a wide variety of subjects, from classical poems to contemporary beauties. Like many artists of his day, Harunobu also produced a number of shunga, or erotic images. During his lifetime and shortly afterwards, many artists imitated his style. A few, such as Harushige, even boasted of their ability to forge the work of the great master. Much about Harunobu's life is unknown.

<i>Bijin-ga</i> Japanese woodblock prints

Bijin-ga is a generic term for pictures of beautiful women in Japanese art, especially in woodblock printing of the ukiyo-e genre, which predate photography.

Kitao Shigemasa

Kitao Shigemasa was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist from Edo. He was one of the leading printmakers of his day, but his works have been slightly obscure. He is noted for images of beautiful women (bijinga). He was taught by Shigenaga and has been referred to as "a chameleon" who adopted to changing styles. He was less active after the rise of Torii Kiyonaga and produced relatively few works considering the length of his career. He is also noted for his haikai (poetry) and shodō. In his later years he used the studio name Kosuisai.


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Katsukawa Shunshō

Katsukawa Shunshō was a Japanese painter and printmaker in the ukiyo-e style, and the leading artist of the Katsukawa school. Shunshō studied under Miyagawa Shunsui, son and student of Miyagawa Chōshun, both equally famous and talented ukiyo-e artists. Shunshō is most well known for introducing a new form of yakusha-e, prints depicting Kabuki actors. However, his bijin-ga paintings, while less famous, are said by some scholars to be "the best in the second half of the [18th] century".

The Torii school was a school of ukiyo-e painting and printing founded in Edo. The primary producers of kabuki theater signboards and other promotional materials, the Torii were among those whose work led to the development of ukiyo-e. Their style was one of the primary influences in the ukiyo-e depiction of actors and kabuki scenes for much of the 18th century. Still today, kabuki signboards are sometimes painted by members of the Torii family.

Torii Kiyomitsu

Torii Kiyomitsu was a painter and printmaker of the Torii school of Japanese ukiyo-e art; the son of Torii Kiyonobu II or Torii Kiyomasu II, he was the third head of the school, and was originally called Kamejirō before taking the Kiyomitsu. Dividing his work between actor prints and bijinga, he primarily used the benizuri-e technique prolific at the time, which involved using one or two colors of ink on the woodblocks rather than hand-coloring; full-color prints would be introduced later in Kiyomitsu's career, in 1765.

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  7. "Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 | Princeton University Art Museum". Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  8. "Fairfield University Art Museum - Torii Kiyonaga". Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  9. "Enjoying the Evening Cool on the Riverbed at Shijo Gawara (四条河原夕涼体, Shijo-gawara yusuzumi no tei)". Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  10. . Retrieved 2021-02-12.Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  17. "The Actor, Iwai Hanshiro IV, With His Manservant". Retrieved 2021-02-12.