Friday, May 11, 2012

Favorite Bird-and-Flower: Imao Keinen

Seeing the scrolls of the Colorful Realm of Living Beings last month reminded me of a group of bird-and-flower prints I really love.  The Kachō Gafu by Imao Keinen was originally created in 1891, almost 140 years after Itō Jakuchū’s first scroll, and is remarkable for its sheer size (over 160 birds are represented) and Imao’s prodigious talent.

Kachō-e or Kachō-ga is the term used for bird-and-flower prints.  Just like the Colorful Realm scrolls, these prints are based on centuries-old Chinese and Japanese artistic traditions that emphasize the divine and transient nature of life.  They feature birds and insects, and sometimes other wildlife, in their natural, if somewhat stylized, environments and trees and flowers blossoming throughout the year.  The art of Kachō-e reached its peak in the late-19th century.  And many consider Imao’s four albums – one for each season – as the greatest example.

Imao was born in Kyoto in 1845 and began his classical art education at the age of eleven.  His adult life corresponds with the Meiji Period (1868-1912) when Japan transitioned from a shogun-led, feudal society to an emerging, modern world power.  Imao was obviously influenced by both Asian and Western techniques.  And his work includes a Western sense of realism and detail.  But it is important to understand that his Kachō Gafu is not a scientific manual.
Peony and Peking Robin
This blending and juxtaposition of cultures is what interests me about Imao’s art, and I suspect, what inspired subsequent generations of Japanese artists and thrilled collectors and fellow artists around the world.  Slightly later editions of his albums were specifically printed for export.

All the prints featured here are available for sale from Davidson Galleries in Seattle, Washington.  Davidson Galleries specializes in works-on-paper, mainly original prints, both contemporary and antique.  They have a beautiful selection of prints by Asian, Eastern European, Scandinavian and American artists.

From the Spring Album:
Barley, Broad Bean and Skylark
Crabapple and Canary

Daylily and Starling

Jonquil and Chestnut Bunting

From the Summer album:
Tree Peony and Blue and White Flycatcher

Pomegranate and Zebra Finch

East Indian Lotus and Chinese Egret

From the Autumn album:
Japanese Silver Grass, Gentian and Eastern Waxwing
Gingko and Great Spotted Woodpecker

Chrysanthemum and Chestnut Mannikin

From the Winter album:
Lotus and Snipe

Black Pine, Ivy and Woodpecker
Chrysanthemum and Wren
I want to mention… Imao Keinen was a painter and his Kachō Gafu is a collection of woodblock prints.  These prints were crafted through the collaborative effort of Imao, Tanaka Jirokichi who carved the blocks, Miki Jinzaburō and Tanaka Harubei who printed them and Nishimura Sōemon who published the albums.  Imao was a highly-respected artist, revered teacher and avid gardener, and both his art and his life bridged the old and new, from the Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga, during a time of extreme change in Japan’s political, economic and social structures.

You can also find prints by Imao Keinen from online antique dealers like Prints from Panteek and Fuji Arts.  His original paintings are significantly rarer.

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