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Biography: Sekkôtei HOKUMYÔ (雪江亭北妙)

Enjaku 1863 yonezo as kainosuke
Shunpu 春婦 (Hokumyô 北妙) print from 3/1830
(1R) Nakamura Utaemon III (三代目 中村歌右衛門)
(2R) Ichikawa Hakuen II (二代目 市川白猿)
Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura (助六由縁江戸桜)
Woodblock print, koban (164 x 110 mm)

 

 

 

Sekkotei Hokumyo  signatureShunpusai Hokumyo signatureSekkôtei Hokumyô (雪江亭北妙 active circa 1829–39) was a pupil of Shunkôsai Hokushû. All we know of his personal life comes from a citation in an anonymously printed single-sheet broadside titled Naniwa shoryû gajin meika annai (Guide to the many famous contemporary artists of Osaka, 浪華諸流画人名家案内) circa 1831, which stated that he lived in Dôjima, Osaka. Hokumyô began designing prints during the last two or three years of his teacher's career, focusing mainly on small-format works, some of which were copies of previously published prints in larger sizes by other artists, including Hokushû. Hokumyô's total output appears to have been around 100 print designs, although that number is likely to increase as research continues.

Given this productivity, Hokumyô represents an interesting case for a second-tier artist who, as far as printmaking in Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region) was concerned, provided publishers with a respectable number of print designs. However, many (84 percent) were produced in small formats. Fewer than twenty ôban ("large-prints": 大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) are known, and no chûban ("medium-size prints: 中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm) can be found. However, twenty or so koban ("small-size prints": 小判 approx. 230 x 160 down to 190 x 130 mm) have been identified, as well as nearly seventy miniature formats called mameban ("bean prints" 豆判 approx. 130 x 100 mm or smaller). Notably, the smaller sizes dominated Hokumyô's early years, whereas the far fewer ôban sheets began appearing more frequently toward the later years of his active period, perhaps signaling a slow rise in stature.

Moreover, only four designs (three koban and one ôban) were issued in jôzuri-e editions ("top-quality" or deluxe prints: 上摺絵). This limited production of jôzuri-e might indicate that Hokumyô's position in the printmaking market did persuade publishers to hire him for the somewhat more expensive deluxe editions. One of these exceptions is shown on the left. Even so, there were seven prints by Hokumyô that were carved by Yama Kasuke (山嘉助 active c. 1821-36), a legendary artisan and, briefly, fellow pupil of Hokushû who cut the blocks for some of that master's designs. The Hokumyô-Kasuke works were published from 8/1831 until 4/1833, all as ôban designs. So, within the mix, Hokumyô was seen as worthy of collaboration with Kasuke, somewhat mitigating the lack of deluxe productions

Speaking of publishers, Hokumyô worked with six firms: Kawaji (河治), Honya Seishichi (本や清七), Izutsuya Denbei (井筒屋傳兵衞), Kichi (吉), Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衞), and Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衞). Kawaji's numbers are the highest by virtue of two large series of reduced-size landscape copies. However, when isolating actor prints from these counts, it is Honsei (Honya Seishichi) who issued the most prints (15 designs). So far, it can be confirmed that Hokumyô portrayed at least thirteen actors in stagings by eight different kabuki theaters. The most frequently encountered actors were Arashi Rikan II (nearly 30 times) and Nakamura Utaemon III (at least 15 times) and the most frequently represented theaters were the big main venues in Osaka, the Kado (15 times) and the Naka (nine times). The prominence of Rikan II is perhaps surprising, as Hokumyô did not follow Hokushû's lead, who frequently focused on Utaemon III, the greatest actor on the Osaka stage at the time.

Among Hokumyô's mameban output, about fifty prints were issued in the mid-1830s. These were all copies of ôban landscape prints by the Edo artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北齋 1760-1849). This not infrequent reliance on previously published designs, both landscapes and actor prints, was common enough among other artists, which leads one to question whether Hokumyô's career trajectory was typical of other second-level artists in Kamigata. How many artists were more or less limited to small formats or to copies of Edo prints in reduced sizes for buyers who were curious about the visualizations of landscape scenes, a genre that never really took off in Kamigata as it did in Edo?

All of the above is not to say that Hokumyô lacked the skills to produce perfectly adequate and sometimes excellent print designs. Some of his small-format work was the equal of, or even better than, similar productions by other artists active during the 1830s. For a few examples, see the link at the end of this text.

Pupils of Hokumyô

No pupils of Hokumyô have been identified.

Artist Names and Seals

Art Names (geimei):
Hokumyô (北妙) first appears in 9/1829

Art Pseudonyms (gô):
Hokumyô's signatures provide a very rough guide as to the year of print production. However, the dates shown below are highly provisional, as more research is needed.

  1. Shunpu (春婦) — first used alone in 1/1829 until at least the end of 1830
  2. Shunpusai (春婦齋) — used alone or with "Hokumyô" from 9/1829 until at least 4/1833; see signature, second from top right
  3. Sekkôtei (雪江亭) — first used in 9/1831 as "Sekkôtei Hokumyô" and continued until at least 6/1839; see signature at top right

For more information about Sekkôtei Hokumyô, see John Fiorillo's web page:
https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoe/hokumyo_sekkotei.html.