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Sekkôtei HOKUMYô (雪江亭北妙)

 

Sekkôtei Hokumyô (雪江亭北妙 active circa 1829–39) was a pupil of Shunkôsai Hokushû. All we know of his personal life comes from a citation in an anonymously printed single-sheet broadside titled Naniwa shoryû gajin meika annai (Guide to the many famous contemporary artists of Osaka, 浪華諸流画人名家案内) circa 1831, which stated that he lived in Dôjima, Osaka. Hokumyô began designing prints during the last two or three years of his teacher's career, focusing mainly on small-format works, some of which were copies of previously published prints in larger sizes by other artists, including Hokushû. Hokumyô's total output appears to have been around 100 print designs, although that number is likely to increase as research continues.

Hokumyo 1829 shin usuyuki
Hokumyô (北妙 signed Shunpu, 春婦)
(1R) Arashi Rikan II (二代目嵐璃寛) as Tsumahei (妻平と)
(2R) Sawamura Kunitarô II (二代目沢村国太郞) as Magaki (まがき)
Shin usuyuki monogatari (A new tale of Usuyuki: 新薄雪物語), 1/1829
Woodblock print, small format (koban), jôzuri-e (deluxe)
Pub: Izutsuya Denbei and Tenmaya Kihei

Hokumyô's earliest datable print is the deluxe koban double ôkubi-e shown above. It is remarable that, despite the small size, the quality of the carving and printing equals what is usually found only in the finest Osaka actor portraits in the much larger ôban format. A brass pigment mimicking gold has been applied to Rikan's robes and embossed patterns for the "Arashi" and "Sawamura" actor crests decorate the background. Assuming this design proves to be Hokumyô's first published print, it would seem that the co-publishers Izutsuya Denbei and Tenmaya Kihei considered it an important debut for the Hokushû protégé.

Hokumyô represents an interesting case for a second-tier artist who, as far as printmaking in Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region) was concerned, provided publishers with a respectable number of print designs. However, many (84 percent) were produced in small formats. Fewer than twenty ôban ("large-prints": 大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) are known, and no chûban ("medium-size prints: 中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm) can be found. However, twenty or so koban ("small-size prints": 小判 approx. 230 x 160 down to 190 x 130 mm) have been identified, as well as nearly seventy miniature formats called mameban ("bean prints" 豆判 approx. 130 x 100 mm or smaller). The smaller sizes dominated Hokumyô's early output, whereas the far fewer ôban sheets began appearing more frequently toward the later years of his active period, perhaps signaling a slow rise in stature.

Moreover, only four designs (three koban and one ôban) were issued in jôzuri-e editions ("top-quality" or deluxe prints: 上摺絵), such as the koban illustrated above. This limited production of jôzuri-e might signify that Hokumyô's position in the printmaking market was insufficient to persuade publishers to hire him for the somewhat more expensive deluxe editions. Even so, there were seven prints by Hokumyô that were carved by Yama Kasuke (山嘉助 active c. 1821-36), a legendary artisan and, briefly, a fellow pupil of Hokushû who cut the blocks for some of that master's designs. The Hokumyô-Kasuke works were published from 8/1831 until 4/1833, all as ôban designs. So somewhere in the mix, while not being much involved in designs for jôzuri-e, Hokumyô was nevertheless seen as worthy of collaboration with Kasuke, somewhat mitigating the lack of deluxe productions.

Hokumyo 1829 shin usuyuki
Shunpusai Hokumyô (春婦齋北妙)
Arashi Rikan II (二代目嵐璃寛) as Ogata Rikimaru (尾形力丸)
Keisei sato no odamaki ( けいせい廓苧環), 1/1831
Woodblock print, small format (koban), jôzuri-e (deluxe)

A second deluxe print for a design by Hokumyô is shown immediately above. In this instance, the work is a close copy in koban format of an ôban design by his teacher Hokushû. The play Keisei sato no odamaki (Courtesan: Columbine in the pleasure quarter: けいせい廓苧環) was given at the Kado Theater, Osaka, in 1/1831, so this copy was issued around that time, as the publisher (not named on the print) would have needed to capitalize on a popular current staging and on Hokushû's freshly released ôban version. The play was one of the so-called Jiraiya mono (Jiraiya plays: 自来也物) recounting the exploits of the righteous bandit Jiraiya (自来也) and his gang of outlaws who, Robin-Hood style, robbed the wealthy and gave back to the poor. In these dramas, Jiraiya is heir to the Ogata family. In this scene, Ogata Rikimaru has exercised his magical powers to subdue two giant frogs.

Hokumyô worked with six firms: Kawaji (河治), Honya Seishichi (本や清七), Izutsuya Denbei (井筒屋傳兵衞), Kichi (吉), Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衞), and Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衞). Kawaji's numbers are the highest by virtue of two large series of reduced-size landscape copies (see below). However, when isolating actor prints from these counts, it is Honsei who issued the most prints (15 designs). So far, it can be confirmed that Hokumyô portrayed at least thirteen actors in stagings from eight different kabuki theaters. The most frequently encountered actors were Arashi Rikan II (nearly 30 times) and Nakamura Utaemon III (15 times), and the most frequently represented theaters were the most important venues in Osaka, the Kado (15 times) and the Naka (nine times). So Hokumyô did well in obtaining commisions for performances in the significant kabuki halls. The prominence of Rikan II is perhaps surprising, as Hokumyô did not follow Hokushû's lead, who focused the most on Utaemon III, the greatest actor on the Osaka stage at the time.

Hokumyo 1829 shin usuyuki
Hokumyô (北妙)
(L) Sanka hakû: (Rainstorm beneath the summit: 山下白雨)
(R) Kameido tenjin taikobashi (Drum bridge at Kameido: 亀戸天神太鼓橋)
Woodblock prints copied after designs by Katsushika Hokusai, very small format (mameban), mid-1830s

Roughly half of Hokumyô's known prints were copies in the tiny mameban format, derived from ôban fûkeiga (landscape views: 風景画) by Katsushika Hokusai. Shown above are two examples. On the left, from Fugaku sanjûrokkei (Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji: 富嶽三十六景), we have Sanka hakû: (Rainstorm beneath the summit: 山下白雨). On the right, from Shokoku meikyô kiran (Remarkable views of the bridges in all provinces: 諸國名橋奇覧), the subject is Kameido tenjin taikobashi (Drum bridge at Kameido: 亀戸天神太鼓橋). These now-rare tiny fûkeiga were quite popular in Osaka, confirmed by the existence of later recut versions (some signed by Hokumyô; others unsigned), plus a second state of the original edition, shown here. The images were once printed six to a sheet called ôtanzakuban ("large, narrow, poem-card print": 大短册判 approx. 390 x 175 mm), but were cut out individually and found pasted in a homemade album with 33 images based on Hokusai’s "Fuji" series and three from the "Bridges" set.

This reliance on previousy published designs, while not unknown among other artists, leads one to question whether Hokumyô's career trajectory was typical of other second-level artists in Kamigata. How many artists were more or less limited to small formats and, in at least some instances, copies of Edo prints in reduced sizes, particularly visualizations of landscape scenes, a genre that never really took off in Kamigata as it did in Edo?

The last image on this page illustrates an atypical work by Hokumyô, as it is his only deluxe design in ôban format. In the sixth lunar month of 1837, he had an opportunity to collaborate on a series with Ryûsai Shigeharu, Gosôtei Sadahiro I, and Hasegawa Sadanobu I. Titled Osaka Kita-Shinchi nerimono (Costume parade of the Kita-Shinchi Quarter in Osaka: 大阪北新地ねり物), the series presents women in a nerimono, an important exception to the tenacious focus on kabuki for which kamigata-e are known. These visual records of participants in the parades offer glimpses into alternative entertainments beyond the kabuki and puppet theaters, and clues regarding what the citizens of nineteenth-century Osaka found fascinating and enjoyable. The nerimono were large-scale fantasies within a special world of asobi (play or amusement: 遊) where pleasure women, geishas, teahouse waitresses, musicians, actors, theater patrons, and bon vivants eagerly sought escape from everyday life. The parade in Osaka's Kita Shinchi (a pleasure district in which the geisha were celebrated for their wit and charm) was held around the spring of each year.

Hokumyo 1837 Yori of Iseshima
Sekkôtei Hokumyô (雪江亭北妙)
Yori (より) of Iseshima (伊勢島) as Kyûmonryû (九文龍) [Ch. Shi Jin]
Series: ôsaka Kita-Shinchi nerimono (大阪北新地ねり物), 6/1837
Woodblock print, ôban jôzuri-e (deluxe), 371 x 248 mm
Publishers: Honsei (本清), Wataki (綿喜), Tenki (満喜)

Hokumyô has portrayed Yori (より) of Iseshima (伊勢島) in a costume meant to designate Kyûmonryû (九文龍 Kyûmonryû Shishin; Ch. Shih Jin), a fictional Chinese warrior from one of the four great classical novels of China, the fourteenth-century Shuihu zhuan (Tale of the Water Margin: 水滸傳), pronounced in Japanese as "Suikoden." Kyûmonryû was a fearsome warrior of enormous strength whose exploits in defeating and then befriending a leader of a small band of thieves earns him an invitation to join the infamous Ryôsanpaku gang, the heroes of the saga. Yori’s stunning robe and Chinese-style fan, patterned with dragons, was meant to evoke the nine dragons (hence the nickname "Kyûmonryû") tattooed on Kyûmonryû's body. It is with prints such as this sophisticated example that we might argue for some adjustment in the consensus regarding Hokumyô's skills as a print designer. He was a better artist than the near-total obscurity usually granted him in published ukiyo-e surveys and compendiums. Had he more opportunity to work in the larger ôban format, perhaps Hokumyô's star would have risen higher among the print artists of Kamigata.

Pupils of Hokumyô

No pupils of Hokumyô have been identified.

Artist Names and Seals

Art Names (geimei):
Hokumyô (北妙) first appears in 9/1829

Art Pseudonyms (gô):
Hokumyô's signatures provide a very rough guide as to the year of print production. However, the dates shown below are highly provisional, as more research is needed.

  1. Shunpu (春婦) — first used alone in 1/1829 until at least the end of 1830
  2. Shunpusai (春婦齋) — used alone or with "Hokumyô" from 9/1829 until at least 4/1833
  3. Sekkôtei (雪江亭) — first used in 9/1831 as "Sekkôtei Hokumyô" and continued until at least 6/1839

© 2021 by John Fiorillo

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Fiorillo, John and Ujlaki, Peter: "Koban nishiki-e: Rare small-format colour prints from Osaka," in: Andon, Society for Japanese Arts, Leiden, 2014, no. 96; 5-36.
  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 265, 315.
  • Klompmakers, Inge: Of brigands and bravery: Kuniyoshi's heroes of the Suikoden. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 1998, pp. 40-41.
  • Ujlaki, Peter, and Fiorillo, John: "Mameban nishiki-e: Diminutive colour prints from Kamigata," in: Andon, Society for Japanese Arts, Leiden, 2017, no. 103, pp. 34-81.
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