Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Beauty and the Rooster by Takeuchi Keishu. C.1909.

The Japanese word "kuchi-e" translates literally as "mouth-picture" and, in a descriptive manner typical of many Japanese terms, refers to the multi-color woodblock prints that were inserted into the fronts (that is, the "mouth") of literary magazines and novels during the late Meiji era. (These illustrations were also frequently referred to as "sashi-e.") Due largely to the time during which they were produced, many of these story illustrations where produced to the highest of standards, exhibiting advanced printing techniques typical of "surimono" (privately commissioned woodblocks) such as the use of "gauffrage," extensive "bokashi" shading, "burnishing," the use of metallic pigments, and highly detailed carving.

Although a few books' kuchi-e were of a smaller size that did not require folding, typically these woodblock illustrations were produced as over-sized prints that were inserted into the fronts of these books as "fold-outs." As these novels and literary magazines were typically printed and bound in a tall, narrow format, in order for the single kuchi-e illustrations to fit within the closed book, they required two folds.

Some of the most popular so-called kuchi-e prints at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were designed by Takeuchi Keishu, a student of the famous, and by many seen as the greatest Meiji artist, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Kuchi-e were one of the few possibilities for printmakers in Japan to make a living at the time, but at best, it was usually a meager living, even for someone as popular as Takeuchi Keishu.

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