Japanese prints and paintings of the last years of the eighteenth century are the focus of the fall exhibition at Sebastian Izzard LLC Asian Art. This was the decade of the ōkubi-e—defined as head and shoulder portraits—of both men and women, usually actors or courtesans and famous beauties of the day. Although not part of the Asian pictorial tradition, portrait heads of actors began to make their appearance on fan prints, and on fan-shaped cartouches on larger prints, from the 1720s onwards. It was not until around 1770 that the format was popularized. From around 1775 Katsukawa Shunshō (1726–1792) made large prints of actors that were designed to be cut out and mounted as folding fans and in the early 1780s, he made aiban-size, half-length portraits. His student Katsukawa Shunkō (1743‒1812) followed his lead by making similar half-length images of actors in the same format, and then followed up with his major contribution to ukiyo-e, the first full-size ōban tate-e ōkubi-e.
The authorities seem to have regarded ōkubi-e with some suspicion, objecting that artists were making their subjects “conspicuous.” Throughout the 1790s restrictions were imposed on this type of print, culminating in 1800 with an outright ban on “large head” portraits of women. When these regulations were ignored, the ban was expanded to include portraits of both men and women. Artists and their publishers responded to the regulations invarious ingenious ways, always seeking to stretch the rules to appeal to a sophisticated market eager for something new.
The exhibition will also include rare prints by Kitagawa Utamaro (1754‒1806), Katsukawa Shun’ei (1762‒1819), Chōkōsai Eishō (act. ca. 1780‒1800), Utagawa Kunimasa (1773‒1810), Tōshūsai Sharaku (act. 1794‒95), and Utagawa Toyokuni (1769‒1825), as well as a select group of ukiyo-e beauty paintings by Shiba Kōkan (1748‒1818), Aoki Masatada (act. ca. 1790‒1830), and Toyokuni.
A selection of works from the exhibition may be viewed here.
A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies this exhibition.