UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harunobu : an Ukiyo-e artist who experimented with Western- style art Hockley, Allen F.


From the beginning of serious art historical study of Japanese woodblock prints or Ukiyo-e, the artist Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) has been accorded a prominent position in the development of that art form primarily because of his role in the creation of the first full colour prints. This, and his particular conception of feminine beauty which he chose to illustrate most often as the main subject of his art, made him the dominant artist of his generation. The popularity he achieved during his lifetime was monumental, but he met with a premature and untimely death. Shortly after his death Shiba Kōkan (1747-1818), a young artist just beginning his career, made forgeries of Harunobu's prints and later admitted to doing so in his autobiography. Based on Kōkan's confession, there developed among art historians and connoisseurs, a long running, at times heated and, as yet, unresolved debate focussed upon determining which of Harunobu's prints are in fact forgeries. Because Kōkan eventually acquired fame as an artist who experimented with styles and techniques newly imported to Japan from Europe, Harunobu's prints that contain linear perspective, one such Western technique, have traditionally and without question been designated as forgeries. To this author, making such an attribution based on this criterion seems somewhat illogical. Why would Kōkan introduce something foreign to Harunobu's style into prints he intended to pass off as Harunobu's originals? The simplest resolution to this quandary is to assume that Harunobu must have also been experimenting with imported European styles. Based on this premise, this thesis introduces literary and visual evidence linking Harunobu to a number of sources of European-style art. Much of this evidence was uncovered through a re-examination of Harunobu's prints and literary accounts of his life in accordance with the social and artistic context in which he worked. The prints and the documents which this thesis discusses have long been known to art historians. They simply needed to be reworked to support this premise. This thesis does, however, introduce one print from the collection of the Oregon Art Institute which seems to have been overlooked by other scholars. It provides a clear example of Harunobu's Western-style art and through visual analysis of it, its sources can be identified among the Western-style megane-e of Maruyama ōkyo ( 1733-1795). The concluding section of this thesis examines the consequences of this evidence. Two of the so-called forgeries are reattributed to Harunobu and his prints as a whole are recast within the tradition of Western-style art in Japan.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.