Hirezaki Eihô (鰭崎英朋 1880-1966) was born Hirezaki Tarô in Tokyo on March 29, 1880 where he completed compulsory education at a mission school called Tsukiji Meikyô Gakkô. He began his art studies in 1897 with a former student of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年 1839-92), the print artist, illustrator, and painter Migita Toshihide (右田年英 1863-1925). Later, in 1904, he trained in naturalistic Maruyama-Shijô (円山四条) painting with the Nihonga (Japanese-style painting: 日本画) artist Kawabata Gyokushô (川端玉章 1842-1913). In addition to his gô (pseudonym) Eihô (英朋), Hirezaki also used the gô Kendô (絢堂) and Shinji (晋司). The characters for Eiho (英朋) are sometimes read as Hidetomo.
Hirezaki is known primarily as an illustrator who, from 1900, produced drawings for more than 100 books. These included sashi-e ("inserted pictures": 挿絵 made from blocks or plates inserted in presses and positioned along with movable metal type.) and kuchi-e ("mouth pictures": 口絵 frontispieces for books, particularly novels, made woodblocks but also with lithography, photography, and metal plates). Hirezaki also worked as an illustrator for newspapers, magazines, and novels. For more than 20 years, starting around 1900-1901, Hirezaki created lively sketches of sumô (Japanese-style wrestling: 相撲 or 角力) matches for the newspaper Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), which proved to be so popular that even after other newspapers switched over to copper-mesh prints of photographs, Asahi Shimbun continued reproducing Hirezaki's drawings in their issues. While working in the art department of Tokyo publisher Shun'yôdô (春陽堂) from 1902 until 1913, Hirezaki provided numerous bijin kuchi-e ("Frontpiece beauties": 美人口絵) and cover illustrations for popular culture magazines such as Shin shôsetsu (新小說 published by Shun'yôdô), Bungei kurabu (Literary club: 文芸倶楽部), starting in 1907; Fujokai (Women’s world: 婦女界), beginning in 1910; and Goraku sekai (World of amusement: 娯楽世界), starting in 1913. In 1901, he co-founded the Ugôkai (Cormorant Society: 鹈界) with Kaburaki Kiyokata (鏑木清方 1878-1972), Yamanaka Kodô (山中古洞 1869-1945), Ikeda Terukata (池田輝方 1883-1921), and Kashiwabara Shôen (Ikeda Shôen 池田蕉園 1886-1917) in order to promote outsider artists ignored by the "Bunten" (Monbushô Bijutsu Tenrankai or Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibitions: 文部省美術展覧会), the official salon that was held in Tokyo from 1907 to 1918. Hirezakie Eihô exhibited with Ugôkai until its dissolution in 1912. Afterwards, he seemingly ceased to exhibit his works.
Kendall Brown has noted (ref. below) that, "Producing kuchi-e provided artists with a way of honing their skill and message by developing themes and methods of expression relevant to their paintings. More immediately — along with illustration, cover art, and other design work — it offered a consistent source of income." Hirezaki Eihô once said that Shin shôsetsu paid him 15 yen for kuchi-e in 1902, a higher rate than what he received for sashi-e during that time. An issue of Shin shôsetsu sold for 50 sen (100 sen = 1 yen) in 1907, the same as a meal in the restaurant at the upscale Mitsukoshi department store. Low rates of pay meant that many artists had to take on numerous assignments, often struggling to meet deadlines. Hirezaki reported that he completed two sheets of drawings for the Osaka Mainichi (毎日新聞) newspaper in one hour, one kuchi-e in 90 minutes, an illustration for Goraku sekai in one hour, a kuchi-e for the theatrical magazine Engei gahô (Illustrated magazine of show and entertainment: 演藝畫報) in five hours, and an illustration for Bungei kurabu in two hours.
In 2010, the Yayoi Museum celebrated the 130th anniversary exhibition of Hirezaki Eihô's birth by featuring 350 works to acknowledge this previously overlooked artist whom Nanako Yamada referred to as "a superbly skilled artist" whose drawings of women had "an aura of fascination and enchantment."
Our painting by Hirezaki Eihô is the original art-work for a cover of Fujokai (Women’s world: 婦女界), Vol. 22, No. 3, published by Hakubunkan (博文館) in 11/1921. Fujokai became one of Japan’s so-called "Big Four" mass women's magazines of the interwar period. These periodicals specialized in providing advice on the management of home and family life as well as on shûyô ("self-cultivation": 修養 or 修养). Fujokai, launched in 1910, had a wide circulation; in 1931, a reported 120,000 readers subscribed; many other (poorer) women would purchase single issues when they could afford to do so. According to Sato (see ref. below), Hakubunkan, founded in 1887 by Ôhashi Sahei (1863– 1944), was the first to use marketing practices, unique at the time, identifying potential readers according to age, gender, education, and interests to create a variety of magazines for different segments of society. Sato sees the acquisition of these magazines as "gendered consumerism." She mentions that, "A reader in western Japan, who cleaned her brother's dry cleaning shop, wrote that by living frugally she could save 1 yen from her 15 yen monthly salary for her subscription to Fujokai. On a good month she took in a movie on her day off, but she emphasized that reading magazines was what sustained her (Fujokai, February 1927). Up to then, these women had not relied on print communication as a major source of information."
Eihô's painting exemplifies the Taishô-period aesthetic of iconic beauty created mostly by male artists targeting a primarily female audience. The women in these images appear idealized and dreamlike, their aspirational nature and unprovocative demeanor serving as an antidote to the more turbulent real-life cultural and political complexities of the day. The title, Shimo no asa (Morning frost: 霜の朝), evokes just the sort of mystery and romanticism that was so appealing to the female readers of these Taishô-period magazines and books (novels). To our knowledge, paintings such as this lovely Eihô are distinct rarities, particularly when they can be securely associated with the original publications in which they were reproduced. Shin hanga collectors in particular should be most enthusiastic about this opportunity to acquire an important work in the genre.
- Brown, Kendall: Dangerous Beauties and Dutiful Wives: Popular Portraits of Women in Japan 1905-1925. Mineola, NY: Dover, pp. xv-xvi.
- Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Woodblock Kuchi-e Prints: Reflections of Meiji Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000, p. 195.
- Sato, Barbara: "Gender, consumerism and women’s magazines in interwar Japan," in: Fabienne Darling-Wolf (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Japanese Media. London, Feb. 2018, pp. 39-50.