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Archive: Keisai 蕙斎 (Kuwagata Shôshin 鍬形紹真 Kitao Masayoshi 北尾政美)

Title: Edo Kuwagata Shôshin hitsu (Edo drawn by Kuwagata Shôshin: 江戸鍬形紹真筆)
None (artist named in the title of the print)
Artist Seal: Shinso (or Soshin)?; Block Carver: Noshira Yuko
Yatai(?) Ryûkô
(H x W)
Double ôban
36.5 x 55.3 cm
Very good color and good condition, lightly backed; two expertly repaired horizontal creases, a few small filled wormholes
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: KEI01


Keisai (蕙斎 family name Sanjirô 三次郎), also known as Kuwagata Shôshin (alt. reading Tsuguzane; 鍬形紹真), 1764-1824, was a ukiyo-e painter, illustrator, and printmaker born in Suruga province. Adopted while a young boy by a farmer named Akabane Genzaemon (赤羽源左衛門), he studied with the Edo-based ukiyo-e master Kitao Shigemasa (北尾重政 1739-1820). He took the name Kitao Masayoshi (北尾政美) and worked in the ukiyo-e manner until he became the official painter to the daimyô (military lord: 大名) of Tsuyama in 1797. Thereafter, he studied with Kanô Eisen'in II (狩野栄川院 1730-90), used his grandmother's name Kuwagata (鍬形), and produced works influenced by the Kanô (狩野) school, the academic painting academy founded by Kanô Masanobu (1434-1530) that was sponsored by the Tokugawa shogunate. In retirement Keisai became a lay monk.

Keisai's works are in the collections of numerous major institutions, including the British Museum, London; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England; Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Honolulu Academy of Art; Kobe Municipal Art Museum; Musée d-art et d'histoire, Geneva; Musée Guimet, Paris; Newark Museum, NJ; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Rietburg Musuem, Zurich; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Staatliche Museum Berlin; Tokyo National Museum; and Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Keisai's print is an excellent example of an ezu (Illustrated or picture map: 絵圖). Ezu were based on topographical maps from government-sponsored cartographic projects. Aided by Western surveying techniques, these accurate maps were classified until the bakufu (the Tokugawa government: 幕府) responded to widespread public interest by permitting publishers to issue, among others, the "Great illustrated map of Edo" (Edo ôezu, 1670) and "Illustrated survey map of the Tôkaidô" (Tôkaidô bunken ezu, 1690). Some ezu were also popular as touring guides or souvenirs of journeys. Ezu often combined conventional cartographic elements with realistic renderings of the architectural and topographical infrastructure, including shrines, temples, castles, inns, commercial buildings, harbors, ships, rivers, roads, and bridges.

It is said that Keisai made his reputation in the eyes of the official academy with a panoramic view of Edo. Here, Keisai offers an aerial view, including Edo Bay and the Sumida River, with watercraft, dwellings and other structures, and townspeople.

There is an impression in the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland. According to a label on the print held in the Smithsonian Institution, "a copy of this pictorial map of Edo was presented to Lord Tokugawa in 1810."

The rarity of this image, the extraordinary wealth of detail, and its double-ôban format make this a much sought-after prize among collectors of Edo landscapes and topographical maps.

References: SIRIS (Smithsonian Institution Research Information System), NAA MS 7168 (NAA INV 10000036); Laurance Roberts, A Dictionary of Japanese Artists. New York: Weatherhill, 1976, p. 75; Amy Reigel Newland (ed.), The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005, vol. 2, p. 431 [text written by John Fiorillo]