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Portrait of Kido Takayoshi - with a transcript of the biographical sketch of Lord Kido Kōin from the Nichinichi Shinbun


Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Portrait of Kido Takayoshi

(with a transcript of the biographical sketch of Lord Kido Takayoshi from the Nichinichi Shinbun)

by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1878

Ship at Shinagawa Bay

IHL Cat. #1208

About This Print

A memorial portrait of the Meiji statesman Kido Takayoshi 木戸孝允 (1883-May 26, 1877), better known as Kido Kōin 木戸孝磯, published nine months after his death by Tokyo publisher Matsuki Heikichi.  The print's scroll contains a short biography of Kido taken from the Tokyo newspaper Nichi nichi Shimbun.  

The print is most notable for its reproduction of an 1872 photo of Kido taken in London (see below), using both traditional and experimental woodblock techniques.  Both the artist Kiyochika Kobayashi (1847-1915) and the publisher were known for their experimentation, and in this print a crosshatching (or net pattern) is used to simulate the wood engraving process that was used for mass reproduction of photographs in the days before half-tone reproduction was invented.

detail from print showing net pattern used to simulate
wood engraving photographic reproduction

Comparison of Original Photo, Print Portrait and Oil Painting
original photo taken in London, 1872
 detail from this collection's print  
undated portrait in oil done after the London photo 

Curious Portrait Experiments
In discussing the publisher's and artist's experimentation, historian Henry D. Smith II, writes about their "curious portrait experiments of 1878" that were "inspired by the peculiar realism of photography"1:
Matsuki Heikichi . . . went on to work with Kiyochika on a number of other experimental prints that drew on Western models and techniques to depict Japanese themes.  Among these were some revealing attempts at portraiture.

Kiyochika’s earliest known print of an individual was a portrait of Saigō Takamori, published by Matsuki on October 5, 1877, just eleven days after the death of the popular leader of the Satsuma Rebellion.  It is a wholly traditional print that shows Saigō seated in a chair, his face depicted in an imaginary conception made familiar in countless prints of the rebellion over the preceding months.  It was not until February 1878 that Kiyochika turned to a completely new style in a memorial portrait of Kido Kōin, another important early Meiji leader, who had died of tuberculosis in May 1877.  The portrait was framed in the oval shape frequently used for photographs at the time, and seems clearly to have been modeled after a surviving photograph of Kido.

Just ten days after the portrait of Kido, on February 15, 1878, Matsuki published a still more striking portrait by Kiyochika.  Three Geisha: Kayo of Kyoto, Hitotsuru of Osaka, and Kokichi of Tokyo.   The theme of “Beauties of the Three Capitals” (santo bijin) dated back over two centuries in ukiyo-e, but here Kiyochika has used the novel trick of overlapping eyes to combine all three into a single oval portrait.   The source of this device is unclear, but Kiyochika has executed it skillfully, so that each face may be read separately.  The photographic sense is emphasized by the printing in plain black and by the use of a net pattern in imitation of wood engraving, at that time the primary technique in the West for the mass reproduction of photographs.

It was probably later in 1878 that Kiyochika designed  Portrait of the Late Home Minister, Lord Ōkubo Toshimichi, Awarded Senior Second Rank, Great Minister of the Right. Ōkubo was assassinated in May of that year, the last of the great early Meiji triumvirate after Kido and Saigō.  The image of the bust is modeled after a photograph of Ōkubo taken in about 1870….

Although considerable care obviously went into the portrait of Ōkubo, it sold so poorly that Matsuki was forced to lower the price from 2.5 sen to 2 sen, and then to 1.8 sen – and even then had many left unsold.2

Portrait of the Late Home Minister, Lord Ōkubo Toshimichi, Awarded Senior Second Rank, Great Minister of the Right
Three Geisha: Kayo of Kyoto, Hitotsuru of Osaka, and Kokichi of Tokyo

A Short Bio of Kido Takayoshi

Source: website of the National Diet Library http://www.ndl.go.jp/portrait/e/datas/65.html

Statesman. Born in Yamaguchi, the son of a doctor serving in the Hagi Clan. He became a pupil of Shoin Yoshida. Later he learned swordsmanship and western military science in Edo. Opposed to the kobu gattai group (supporters of the union of the Imperial Court and the Shogunate), he worked tirelessly for the sonno joi undo (movement to revere the emperor and expel the barbarians). He held an important position in the clan and led the argument for the overthrow of the shogunate. In 1866, he concluded the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance with the Kagoshima Clan. After the coup d'etat of osei fukko (restoration of Imperial rule), he engaged in the drafting of the Charter Oath. Appointed san'yo (senior councillor), he poured his efforts into hanseki hokan (the return of the lands and people to the Emperor). He became sangi (councilor) in 1870. In 1871, he took part in Iwakura Mission as deputy envoy. Later, he held important posts including monbukyo (Education Minister), naimukyo (Home Miinister), chairman of the local official council, cabinet councilor, etc., while advocating the gradual establishment of constitutional government.

Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan, Henry D. Smith II, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988, p. 15.
2 ibid., p. 28-29

This installation features more than 30 loans from two remarkably rich local resources, the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, and the Lee & Mary Jean Michels Collection. It was co-curated by Professors Akiko Walley (History of Art and Architecture) and Glynne Walley (East Asian Languages and Literatures) and JSMA Chief Curator Anne Rose Kitagawa. QR codes on selected labels allow visitors to access translations and explanations of the complex wordplay, imagery, and cultural context of these fascinating objects.


KOBAYASHI Kiyochika (小林清親, 1847-1915)

Japanese; Meiji period, 1897

Memorial Portrait of Kido Takayoshi with a “Transcript of the Biographical Sketch of Lord Kido Takayoshi from The Day-by-Day News” (Kido Takayoshi-kō ryakuden Nichi Nichi Shinbun yori shō)

Ukiyo-e woodblock print in vertical ōban format; ink and color on paper

The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, IHL.1208

Born as a son of a low-ranking samurai official in the Tokugawa government, Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) had a tumultuous youth, fighting for the losing side. After learning how to draw in his late twenties, he reinvented himself as a star Meiji modern print designer. This memorial portrait of one of the “three heroes of the Meiji Restoration” meticulously reproduces an 1872 photograph of Kido Takayoshi (1883-1877) using cutting-edge woodblock-printmaking techniques developed to imitate new Western modes of reproduction, namely intaglio and lithography. The innovation of this new style is obvious when compared with the treatment of the portraits of Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII (1823-1854, elsewhere in this gallery) and of heroic rebel samurai Saigō Takamori (1828-1877, in the adjacent gallery).

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Portrait of Kido Takayoshi (With a transcript of the biographical sketch of Lord Kido Takayoshi from the Nichinichi Shinbun 木戸孝允公略傳日々新聞ヨリ録)
 Artist  Kiyochika Kobayashi (1847-1915)
Hōensha Kiyochika  方円舎 清親
 Seal  none
 Publication Date
February 5, 1878 御届 明治十一年二月五日 
This date seal is sometimes referred to as a "neng
ō" seal.
 Matsuki Heikichi 松木平吉
(firm name Daikokuya Heikichi 大黒屋平吉)
[Marks pub. ref. 029; seal not shown]
 Carver Horikō  Gin 工銀
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  fair - soiling; paper loss along margins; wrinkling; tape remnants verso along top margin; not backed
 Genre  ukiyo-e; nizura
 Format  oban
 H x W Paper 
 14 x 9 5/8 in. (35.6 x 24.4 cm) 
 Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan, Henry D. Smith II, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988, p. 28-29 (described in text, but not pictured)
 Collections This Print

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