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VJP title Utamaro print showing



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Kappazuri-e: Stencil Prints (Nagahide)


Nagahide Nagahide kanji Yûrakusai Nagahide (active c, 1799-1842) represents a curious case of an artist who worked with the stencil-print (kappazuri-e) method long after it had been supplanted by full-color printing (nishiki-e or brocade-print). The Kamigata region (Kyoto-Osaka) had a viable tradition of stencil prints since the 1740s in album and book illustration and in theater programs, but by at least the early 1790s full-color printing for single-sheet designs had become the preferred method for Osaka artists and publishers. While Nagahide did turn to nishiki-e in the ôban format by the late 1810s, he worked with stencil prints (usually in the hosoban format) from around the late 1790s-early 1800s through the early 1840s.

The stencil print as it was used in Osaka printmaking involved printing the key block outlines from woodblocks in the usual ukiyo-e manner, but then applying brushed colors through stencils instead of printing from carved color blocks. The process was faster and less expensive than the woodblock method, and the range of colors and special effects were generally more limited. Many Osaka stencil prints often have a more primitive look than their contemporary nishiki-e cousins, although some were very well printed.

The figure on the top right is a portrait of the geisha Fusaro of the Izutsuya, titled Chaya musume ("Teahouse girl") and published in 1814 by Yamasa-ban and Honjô-ban (their seals are visible at the lower right in separate oblong cartouches). It is from a series of roughly 160 known stencil prints in hosoban-format (approx. 34 x 15 cm) titled Gion mikoshi arai nerimono sugata ("Fashionable Costume Parades in Gion"). Gion was the largest geisha quarter in Kyoto and the parade of fancy costumes was a popular annual event that took place during July in or near the Gion teahouse district as part of the millennium-old Gion festival. Surviving examples of these prints with known dates were issued circa 1813-24 by at least 16 different Kyoto publishers, with the exception of two prints known from 1836. The most productive year in this span seems to be the very first, 1813. Other years might have seen the production of unidentified Gion nerimono prints, as there are surviving e-banzuke ("program prints") for the years 1825-1840. These were illustrated souvenir program sheets identifying the geisha and costumes. However, only the two previously mentioned specimens are known from this later period, perhaps suggesting economic reasons for the lack of production (assuming that what did exist simply hasn't been lost to us).

Nagahide detail Many examples from the series include a tanzaku-style ("poem slip") title cartouche with umebachi (stylized plum blossom) and mitsudomoe (three-fish or three-comma, yin-yang symbol). Nagahide's design was especially well printed for a stencil print, including the use of metallic pigments (unusual for the stencil process, although not rare). Each of the prints in the series depicted a different geisha in a special costume, in this case rather elaborate robes for a mere teahouse serving girl. Many of the designs were probably subsidized by the teahouses or patrons of the geisha as promotions for their famous beauties. Various Kamigata-region artists contributed to this series, including Seikoku, Hotta, Harusada, Hidemaro, Kasho, Yukinaga, Goshichi Harukawa, Hasegawa Toyokuni, and Nagahide, the last designing about two-thirds of the prints in the series.

The figure on the right shows a detail of the geisha's costume and a typical pattern of colors applied by stencil printing. First, the strokes from the brush used to apply the reddish-orange pigment can be seen at the upper left of the detail. Second, the uneven, wavering edge of the coloring adjacent to the keyblock lines can also be observed throughout the patterns on the kimono (appearing as white space, that is, unprinted paper). Third, the inconsistent registration of colors within the flower and leaf designs can be observed. Finally, the typical "pooling" of pigment where it collected at the edge of the stencil cutouts can be seen, particularly in the darker streaks of color along the edges of the square-dot patterns. Careful examination therefore reveals that the colors on this print were applied by stencil, not woodblock. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Doesburg, Jan van: Osaka Kagami. Dodewaard: Huys den Esch, 1985, pp. 19 & 23, plates 10 & 13.
  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.
  • Kuroda, Genji: Kamigata-e Ichiran. Tokyo: Tôyô Shoin, 1978.
  • Lühl, Hendrick: Helden, Schurken, Kurtisanen. Unna: Kreis Unna, 1987, plate nos. 7-16.
  • Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata Prints in the Former Period (parts 1 and 2). Tokyo: Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University, 1995.
  • Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata Ukiyo-e Nihyakunen Ten. Tokyo: Nihon Keisei Shinbunsha, 1975, plates 38-51.
  • Nakade, Akifumi: Watakushi no kamigata-e monogatari: kappazuri hen (The story of Kamigata kappazuri from my collection). Osaka: Nakao Shôsendo, 2003.
  • Ujlaki, Peter: "The Gion Parade Stencil Prints," in: Andon, no. 63, October 1999, pp. 5-16.
  • Ujlaki, Peter and Nakade, Akifumi: "Gion nerimono prints revisited: The list," in: Andon, no. 75, October 2003, pp. 5-52.
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