Japan art and Western influence in late Edo and early Meiji

Japan art and Western influence in late Edo and early Meiji

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Utagawa Sadahide (Gountei Sadahide) lived during a period of momentous changes in Japan. This concerns the ending of the Edo Period that began in 1603 and was eclipsed by the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Sadahide was born in 1807 and died roughly one decade after the Meiji Period began. Hence, the rich traditions of Japanese art – from ukiyo-e to rinpa (rimpa) – and various classical artistic schools dominated the art scene when Sadahide was born. However, by the ending of his life, various Western art forms were altering the artistic landscape of Japan.

At a very early age, Sadahide (birth name Hashimoto Kenjiro) was blessed to study under Kunisada. Thus the powerful Utagawa School influenced his artistic approach. In time, he would move away from bijin-ga and depict landscapes and musha-e in the 1830s and 1840s.

However, concerning Western encroachment and ideas, this is best viewed by his Yokohama-e art that he produced to an amazing standard.

The British Museum says, “Sadahide is unquestionably the most gifted of the numerous Japanese artists who reported pictorially the crucial period of Western influence in the country’s history. Their work in sheet-print form is known as ‘Yokohamae’ (pictures of, not produced in, Yokohama). He demonstrated his individuality in the last years of the Edo period in ‘Yokohama-e’ and detailed panoramas in which map-like elements were added to a bird’s-eye view.”

Overall, Sadahide – who was blessed to visit Paris in 1867 – is a bridge to the changing times through the prism of art. His legacy remains vivid today concerning the momentous changes of the nineteenth century.



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