Hatta Koshū 八田古秀, Koshū gafu 古秀画譜 1824

Artist: Hatta Koshū 八田古秀 (Japanese, 1770-1822)

Title: Koshū gafu 古秀画譜

Date: 1824 (Bunsei 7)

Medium: Woodblock print, 25.65 x 17.9cm

Publisher: Kyoto: Yoshida Shinbē

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, Box 8, Item 16

Koshū gafu, which translates to “Koshū’s Album,” is a collection of thirty prints illustrated by Koshū Hatta, a painter who studied directly with Maruyama Ōkyo, now regarded as one of the founding figures of the Maruyama-Shijō style. Hatta’s illustrations exhibit the naturalism promoted in the style: the dynamism of people in motion or birds in flight; the fine strokes of an animal’s fur; the reserved but pointed deployment of colors in swatches to connote vast spaces like the sky and the ocean. In these ways Koshū gafu is filled a selection of intimate portrayals of humans, animals, and landscapes alike. Treating animals and landscapes with the same dignity as one would give to a person, Hatta regards his subjects with a tone of reverence. Some animals and plants are zoomed in and painted in larger proportions than our normal perception of them, while in several landscape illustrations we find a small, lone human figure, made to emphasize the vastness of the landscape in which they are depicted, intimating notions of the sublime. That a publisher was willing to give Hatta the space of a selected collection, or gafu, testifies to his appeal and prestige at the time, though Hatta’s artistic style certainly extends beyond the confines of a thirty-work collection. His hanging scroll illustration “Seiobo And Sennin,” a more formally representational work, is currently in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

According to the British Museum, Koshū gafu was first published in 1812, and it was reissued in 1814 and 1824. This signals its great popularity among readers. Arthur Tress’s collection includes two copies of Koshū gafu from the 1824 reissue, in different stages of wear (see Box 8, item 8 for the other copy). Both copies have the original cover with repeating octagonal patterns, though the copy exhibited is at a generally better condition, preserving more of the original colors. The copy featured here also includes what appear to be stamps of small, red circles on every illustration, either at the lower left-hand or lower right-hand side, circles which do not appear in the other copy. The exact purpose of these red circles is unknown, though they are not an uncommon appearance in other Japanese illustrated books of the time.

Other copies of Koshū gafu can be found at the British Museum (1812 edition), the Boston Book Company (presumed 1812 edition), and the Pulverer Collection (1812 edition).

Selected Readings

Jack Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book (London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd., 1987).

Jack Hillier, The Uninhibited Brush: Japanese Art in the Shijō Style (Hugh M. Moss Ltd., 1974).

Posted by Kelly Liu, Autumn 2019

Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, Ryakuga hayaoshie 略画早指南, 1812-1814

Artist: Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎  (1760-1849)

Title: Ryakuga hayaoshie 略画早指南

Date of Publication: 1812 for volume 1, 1814 for volume 2. Publisher: Unspecified.

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink on paper

Dimensions: Chūbon: 18.6 x 13.1 x 0.7 cm

Gift of Arthur Tress

Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 16, Item 10.

See digital images here

Hokusai designed this book, Ryakuga hayaoshie, as a drawing instruction manual. It was printed in three volumes and in each Hokusai demonstrates principles of design. The Tress Collection includes two volumes from the set. In volume 1, Hokusai breaks the drawings down into simple geometric shapes. Volume 2 focuses on the contours of the drawing and characters. By looking at other collections, we can see that in volume 3, Hokusai diagrams the line strokes and order of making them (see for example, the copy held in the Pulverer collection). The Tress copy was part of an important French collection assembled in the 1880s by E. Gillet. In addition to rebinding the books, Gillet may have also written the extensive notes in French that appear in the back of the second volume, as well as added floral interior and exterior patterns to the books front and back covers.

In Ryakuga hayaoshie, or Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, Hokusai intended to teach drawing methods to a varied audience. This genre of book was inspired by Chinese models that presented techniques for creating paintings by building on simple to complex forms using simple brushstrokes.

The theme of Hokusai’s first volume is to use shapes and forms to show how to break down complex renderings. As we can see in the illustration from volume one, Hokusai explores a few foundational drawing concepts through beautiful renderings of three animals, in various stages of finished images. Corresponding to the fully rendered drawing of each animal, on the opposite page there is instruction on how to construct the finished rendered form. For example, in the bottom right corner Hokusai shows a finished rendering of an animal, which appears to be some form of bull or yak, and then on the opposite page breaks down the animal’s construction into its simple geometric shapes. These shapes consist of circles, a triangle, and linear lines. These lines act as a basic contour, gesture, and the form of the figure and the geometry that the shape and line represent. It has been reported that Hokusai believed that anything could be rendered from simple shapes. In the top left corner, Hokusai shows how to render animal hair. By following the shape of a circle Hokusai skillfully uses a brush to draw hairlines on the contour of the circular shape. Looking back to the drawing in the bottom right corner (the bull/yak), the shapes are no longer visible and there is more gesture in the illustration, yet the original geometric forms are still evident given the hair in the middle of the drawing creates a circular shape. In addition to this, the top back of the animal shows a circular line, clearly visible through the gesture of hair. We can see the line even though it is not drawn in.

In the second volume, Hokusai uses the theme of Japanese  characters as a structure for his drawing, as a method to build gesture and contour line drawing. For example, in the illustration shown here, Hokusai shows renderings of landscapes. Like Volume One, where Hokusai breaks down a drawing from fully rendered form to simple geometric shapes, here he uses a similar method of simplification in explaining how to draw the forms. For example, the landscape shows a hillside, trees, and small man-made structures. Above this landscape, the contour lines in the calligraphy act as the structure of the drawing. Upon further inspection when looking at the fully rendered form any reader can clearly see the calligraphy taking shape of the hills, the tree, and the small structures. Hokusai gave the reader many tools to approach a drawing. Finally, on later pages in the book, Hokusai also teaches the reader how to hold and make lines with a brush. The brush is an extension of the artist and must also be taken into consideration as an area of study.

Also see the commentary for the book here: http://pulverer.si.edu/node/314/title/1

Posted by Derek Rodenbeck

April 15th, 2020

Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 Kyōsai gadan 暁斎画談, 1887

Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889)

Kyōsai gadan 暁斎画談

Volume 1, 2, 4 (of 4)

Publisher: Iwamoto Shun, Tokyo

Meiji period (1868-1912), 1887

Woodblock printed book; ink and color on paper

25.5 x 17.6 cm  

In Kyōsai gadan, painter Kawanabe Kyōsai presents the history of painting in two parts. The first part is a painting manual (gafu), representing the works of acclaimed masters, and part two is a biography of the artist himself. The gafu section features masterpieces by artists such as Sesshū and Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716) among many others, copied by Kyōsai himself. Each entry is followed by a brief description of the artist’s painting philosophy as well as his artistic genealogy. 


What makes this work different from other gafu of the time is the wide range of painting styles it covers. Kyōsai gadan features paintings of seventy-four masters across various schools of Chinese and Japanese painting. It was unheard of at the time for gafu to showcase highly regarded Kano or Tosa school painters’ work alongside ukiyo-e, the genre of art enjoyed by townspeople, or to include European anatomical drawings normally only studied by those in the medical field. Kyōsai believed that artists should learn from all styles of art to become truly skilled painters. 

Kyōsai’s inclusive view of artistic practice is also evident in the way his discussion on painting is presented. Instead of using classical Chinese characters for the text, as was the case with more traditional gafu, Kyōsai opted to use both kana syllabary and Chinese characters, often employing glossing (furigana) to make it easier for the general public to read. A large part of the text also includes English translations, showing that his target audience extended beyond Japanese painters. Kyōsai’s use of English comes as no surprise as he was known to have enjoyed friendships with English speakers. Kyōsai cultivated a particularly close relationship with the English architect Josiah Conder (1852-1920), who later became Kyōsai’s pupil, painting under the name Kyōei.


The latter two volumes of the set are a supplemental biography of Kyōsai written by Uryū Masayasu (1821-1893) and illustrated by Kyōsai. In this biography, anecdotes from Kyōsai’s childhood and the defining moments of his career were woven together to further highlight his philosophy and beliefs as an artist. 


Eri Mizukane

Selected Readings:

Jordan, Brenda G. “Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Theory and Pedagogy: The Preeminence of Shasei.” In Copying the Master and Stealing His Secrets: Talent and Training in Japanese Painting, edited by Victoria Weston and Brenda G. Jordan, 86–115. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

Sadamura, Koto. “Meiji no gafu ‘Kyōsai gadan’ : Kinsei ehon bunka kara no renzoku to atarashii jidai ni okeru tenkai.” Ukiyo-e geijutsu 166 (2013): 20–37.

Digital facsimile for browsing (Colenda)

Yamaguchi Soken 山口素絢 Soken gafu sōka no bu 素絢画譜草花之部, 1806

Yamaguchi Soken 山口素絢 (1759-1818)

Soken gafu sōka no bu 素絢画譜草花之部

Volumes 1-3

Publisher: Hishiya Magobē and Noda Kasuke, Kyoto

Edo period (1603-1686), 1806

Woodblock printed book; ink on paper

26.9 x 18.6 cm

In Soken gafu sōka no bu, Yamaguchi Soken illustrates seventy-three kinds of plants in three volumes. The opening shown here presents a bitter melon in full bloom, the tendrils of the plant arching gracefully across the page. To achieve the variation of tone, the leaves were carved in lower relief than the vines, attainingthe effect of gradation of color in a single monochrome block. This visual style and innovative method of using a single block came to be associated with Soken. The more frequently employed technique of printing with two separate blocks to apply various shades of ink also appears in this book.

Soken was often employed to produce illustrations for painting manuals. The publisher’s colophon page advertises another Soken-illustrated title,Yamato jinbutsu gafu (Picture Album of the People of Yamato), issued in two parts a few years earlier, in 1799 and 1804. The colophon also advertises that Soken’s painting manual of landscapes, figures, and flower-and-bird scenes will soon be published; however, only the volume on landscapes came to print. Soken was probably commissioned by his publishers to produce studies on various painting themes, and he may have been responding to Chinese painting manuals like the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

The preface to Soken gafu sōka no bu introduces two approaches to flower-and-bird painting and elevates Soken as one of the great painters of this subject. It reports that the subject was established by Chinese painters Huang Quan (903-965) and Xu Xi (d. 975), who used detailed linework and vibrant color. The freehand style of the monochrome paintings that flourished during the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming dynasties (1368-1644) constituted the next phase of development. It further claims that Soken has surpassed both of these lineages and is thus no longer limited by imitation. The preface adds that painting manuals as a genre had become a device of promoting the painter, often through dialogues with established precedents in Chinese painting.

The second and third volumes in the Tress collection include plant names inscribed in red, but the first volume does not, suggesting that these volumes were brought together at some point to form a set. This is further indicated by the different collectors’ seals and inscriptions in the first volume and the other two volumes.

Tim Zhang


Selected Readings:

Mitchell, Charles H. The Illustrated Books of the Nanga, Maruyama, Shijo and Other Related Schools of Japan: A Biobibliography. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1972.

Suzuki, Jun, and Ellis Tinios. Understanding Japanese Woodblock-Printed Illustrated Books: A Short Introduction to Their History, Bibliography and Format. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Tinios, Ellis. “Soken gafu sōka no bu.” The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book: F|S Pulverer Collection, 2016. https://pulverer.si.edu/node/411/title/1.