Hosoda Eishi
Cherry Blossom Viewing (in the style of Kiyonaga)
c. 1785

Signed: Chōbun; Publisher’s seal: Eiju han (Nishimuraya Yohachi) and logo; ōban triptych, 37.0 x 75.0 cm; nishiki-e with kimedashi and shōmenzuri

This triptych shows a spring scene with blossoming cherry trees. The little girl in the print on the right is holding a sprig of cherry blossoms in her hand, although the sign on the tree warns: “Breaking off branches – strictly prohibited”. The woman in the background in the middle print is carrying a small lacquered table with calligraphy paper. The second little girl is curiously examining a fan hung on a tree with a poem on it.

Werner Speiser; A. Lemp, Zurich (1960); unidentified Japanese and French collections
Riese Collection #83

Eishi began his artistic career as an academic painter in the Kanō style, and for three years was attached to the shôgun’s household in this capacity. Leaving the shôgun’s service he became interested in ukiyo-e style painting and print design and was said to have studied with a certain Torii Bunryūsai, an artist only known as an illustrator of the novelettes and romances known as aohon. Eishi is said to have composed his go, Chōbunsai, by taking the first character in each of his teacher’s names and combining them, the first character in Torii being read Chō in its Chinese-style pronunciation.

The signature on this print is curious for three reasons: first, because it is written in an archaic script most commonly seen on inscriptions on ancient bronzes, and engraved seals; secondly, because it is now followed by gazu, or hitsu, the common words “drawn by” or “designed”; thirdly, because no other print is known signed with these two characters, Chōbun. Because of the style of the print, it has always been assumed that the print is by Eishi, and that the unusual signature simply indicates that the print is one of his earliest published prints, before he had fully resolved to continue using the name Eishi that he had taken and used as an academic painter. Perhaps this hypothesis is correct, but charming as the print is, and elegant as is its drawing, we should not overlook the possibility that this may be a print, perhaps the only surviving single-sheet print by Torii Bunryūsai, who could reasonably have abbreviated his own name to Chōbun. The fact that the print was published in the 1780s would explain its obvious indebtedness to Kiyonaga, and the intimations of Eishi, especially in the figures with the long flowing sleeves in each of the three panels, and the elegantly tied obi of the woman in green at the left may be expressive of the sensibility of one who attracted a pupil, rather than of one who surpassed his master.

The girl in the right panel holds a sprig of cherry blossom in defiance of the injunction written on the plaque below the tree: eda kataku orubekarazu, “The breaking of branches is strictly forbidden”. The woman in the background of the centre panel is caring a small lacquer table with writing paper and a weight for holding the paper still during calligraphy. The girl in the same panel is examining a fan with a poem suspended from the tree. The woman at the far left carries a ground filled with sake.

Only one other impression of this print seems to be known, formerly in the Hans Popper collection.

Reproduced in Ingelheim catalogue, no. 76.