Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉) (artist 1790 – 1848)

Hokugō (go - 北豪)
Hokutei (go - 北亭)
Inransai (named used when designing shunga - 淫乱斎)
Ippitsuan (go - 一筆庵)
Kakō (go - 可候)
Kokushunrō (go - 国春楼)
Konsei (azana - 混声)
Mumeiō (go - 無名翁)
Shōsen (sharebon name - 性潜)
Teisuke (nickname - 呈介)
Zenjirō (nickname - 善次郎)
Jokōken Shujin (writer's name - 女好軒主人?)
Ikeda Yoshinobu (family name - 池田義信)



"Born at Hoshigaoka in Edo, his father a samurai, Ikeda Masahei Shigeharu, a talented calligrapher. Lived in Owari-chō; Hamamatsu-chō; Nezu Shichiken-chō; Shitaya Ikenohata; and Nihonbashi Sakamoto-chō nichōme. After his parents died forced to become a rōnin to support his younger sisters. At one time a Kabuki playwright using the name Chiyoda Saishi, and about this time lodged with the family of Kikugawa Eizan and studied painting with Eizan's father, Eiji. Also worked as a brothel owner and seller of face powder in later years a prolific author of popular literature and also in 1833 compiled the manuscript Mumei-ō zuihitsu (Zoku ukiyo-e ruikō), a reworking of the biographies of Ukiyo-e artists. Studied with the minor Kanō painter Hakkeisai and with Kikukawa Eizan.

From the late Bunka era (1804-19) onwards many illustrations for the various genres of popular literature as well as surimono and a large output of single-sheet prints of women, including some fine bust portraits, exploring the world of the unlicensed pleasure quarters of Edo in his own rich, seductive style. Also many illustrations to erotic works. Contributed twenty-four designs in a Kanō-influenced style to the landscape series Kisokaidō rokujūkyū-tsugi ('Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō Highway', late 1830s) designed with Hiroshige. Eisen painted a relatively large number of hanging scrolls of beauties, sometimes with particularly large (half life-size) figures drawn so that they appear to get larger the higher up the body they are viewed, giving them very vivid presence. The eyes are set wide apart with particularly luxuriant lashes and the pupils always glancing off to one side, but otherwise the faces are not unlike those painted by Eizan."

Quoted from: Ukiyo-e Paintings in the British Museum by Timothy Clark, p. 196.


Eisen and pornography

At Scholten Japanese Art they wrote: "Although Eisen was born into a samurai family which would have accorded him some social status, he experienced a painful fall from grace triggered by the deaths of first his father and then his stepmother only months apart in 1810. At the age of 20, Eisen was forced to find ways to support himself as well as three younger half-sisters. He began producing shunga the following year, relatively early in his artistic career. Unlike his contemporaries in the studio of Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) who was chastened by a crackdown in 1804 by the authorities and apparently forbade his students to produce shunga for a considerable period, Eisen designed shunga albums and novels with his own text, narratives, and even his own calligraphy. Although the lavish shunga publications were mostly produced under pseudonyms, his distinctive style was easily identifiable and invited scrutiny which eventually forced him to give up his samurai rank."


Sawaka Takamura Chang wrote in Andon (no. 107, April 2019) that Eisen, as a young man, "...designed illustrations for fans, kites and other products to earn some extra money." She also noted that: "Since very few of his written works have been preserved, we can perhaps assume that Eisen was not very successful as a writer of Kabuki plays and popular books."

Another curious bit of information appears in this article. "According to his biography, Eisen unofficially studied with Katsushika Hokusai, one of the most influential ukiyo-e artist of the late Edo period. Although it is unclear when Eisen actually studied with Hokusai, some of his works show this influence. Hayashi Yoshikazu argues that one of Hokusai's erotic print books, Ehon tsui no hinagata (Models of couples, 1812) has a preface signed by Eisen with his writer's name Jokōken Shujin. All of the erotic illustrations are considered to be by Hokusai's daughter Oei, Eisen's signature with his shunga artistic name Murasakiiroan Gankō is found on many pages. Hayashi concludes that this was designed by Eisen in terms of drafts of pictures, text and postscript, but that Oei drew all of the final illustrations. Two years later, in 1814, Eisen also contributed a preface for Hokusai's erotic book, Kinoe no komatsu (Pine seedlings on the first Rat day). It seems that Eisen gradually became acquainted with Hokusai through Eizan, Hokkei (Eizan's close friend) and Oei, and that he was a main member of Hokusai's studio."

Eisen's autobiography "...reveals that he viewed Kunisada as a rival. In his Mumei-ō zuihitsu Eisen remarks (in the third person):

Eisen's bijin-ga depict the distinctive fashions and manners of each different Yoshiwara courtesan. Eisen's bijin-ga do not resemble actor prints... Eisen is the one who began the new popular style. Even Kunisada copies his style these days.

Chang tells us that there were at least 1,734 prints designed by Eisen. 70% or 1,265 were of bijin of which 482 were images of Yoshiwara prostitutes.

"Matsuda Misako points out that Eisen's prints of Yoshiwara prostitutes includes the names of women, perhaps an indication that their production was financially supported by Yoshiwara brothels. This type of print, which the historians today refer to as nyūginmono (literally: 'financially sponsored items'), generally functioned as advertisements for courtesans, brothels and the Yoshiwara. In other words, the popularity of Eisen's bijin-ga led to Yoshiwara brothel owners contributing financially to production costs..."


As an illustrator for book publishers

Eisen drew illustrations for Maruya Bun'emon in 1816 and 1825; Tsuruya Kiemon in 1821; Kinrindō in 1822; Izumiya Ichibei in 1822, 1824-27, 1829, 1833 and 1841; Iwatoya Kisaburō in 1822-25 and 1827; Itō Yohei in 1824; Nishimuraya Yohachi in 1824 and 1827; Echizen'ya Chōjirō in 1824; Echizen'ya Chōjirō in 1824; Nakamuraya Kōzō in 1824; Moriya Jihei in 1825; Maruya Jinpachi in 1826-29 and 1830-31; Wakasaya Yoichi in 1826-28; Sanoya Kihei in 1827-28,1831, 1835 and 1849; Kawaguchi Shōzō in 1827-28; Tsutaya Kichizō in 1828-31 and 1833; and Hon'ya Matasuke in 1849.