A tribute to the undervalued Ukiyo – e master Koryusai



Isoda Koryusai (C. 1735-90) originally a samurai became, after the death of his master, Mr. Tsuchiya, a so-called Ronin (a lordless knight) and 'floating man'. Most of these 'floating people' were in low water but Koryusai chose to become an artist and designer prints. First, he was probably a student of Nishimura Shigenaga (1697-1756) but his friend and master of Ukiyo-e Harunobu (C. 1725-1770) had the greatest influence on his work. It was Harunobu who gave him go (a pseudonym) Koryusai, his real name was Masakatsu, which he once used himself in the past. Respect and admiration for his teacher were so great that Koryusai developed his own style of Harunobu, until he died. He exceeded in different print formats and Ukiyo-e genres especially in the printed format, the pillar and Shunga (erotic) genre which will be considered in the following paragraphs.

Pillar Print

Koryusai achieved remarkable results in long and narrow format of the pillar print (hashira-e) using a unique style of luxury, rich and decorative coloring and for reuse opaque orange (Tan) characteristic hand-colored engravings of the past. He also utilized the vertical size of this format to give it the appearance of a wall scroll (kakemono) acquiring a certain stratification. As in the conventional style of Japanese landscape the eyes beginning at the bottom of the image leading the eye to the middle and then to the upper part depiciting the background. In General hashira-e rare, because at that time they were attached to wooden columns as part of the Japanese interior, and therefore more susceptible to damage. But because of the significant number of post prints Koryusai designed in this format, many of his specimens survived.

Erotic Works

“Color and line to create a total atmosphere of physical love, the best of Koryusai's erotic color prints are unsurpassed in Japanese art; and this particularly explains the high esteem in which he is held among connoisseurs – for few people have ever pursued the cult of artistic erotica as assiduously as the Japanese. “ (Richard Lane)

During Harunobu and Koryusai's period of activity government censorship was rather freely, giving them the opportunity to experiment in the genre of Shunga. Sometimes they even signed their designs often placing them in the framework of a sliding door or screen. Koryusai'early work reminiscent of Harunobu but he gradually developed his own style using characteristic vivid colors (his famous orange!), Expressing colorful vitality and depicting more realistic figures. Initially, woodblock artists worked in the West format (approx. 265 X 195 mm) until Koryusai introduced the larger Oban format (CA. 390 x 265 mm) in multi-colour printing medium creating two masterpiece series called 'sensual colors, a Phoenix released in the field ' and ' twelve keeps love ' which were published in CA.1775. In the West format his most famous series 'prosperous flowers of the elegant twelve seasons' (CA.1773) depicting amorous encounters for each of the twelve months.


If we turn to the literature on the history of Ukiyo-e and in particular the artist Koryusai to understand the General consensus among critics on his excellent craftmanship, originality and pioneering within this Japanese art. General recognition of his genius the question why he is so underrated to this day becoming more apparent. Probably one of the reasons was Koryusai'with a humble personality and devotion to his teacher and friend Harunobu sometimes even signing with his name. Jack Hillier raises an interesting theory in his book 'In The Japanese Print – A New Approach' when he chooses:

“There is always, especially among collectors, a tendency to make comparison between artist and artist, and with Koryusai it is perhaps a case of we look before and after and pine for what is not.”

Important Contemporaries

Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829)
Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)
Chokes Eishosai (act. CA. 1789-1795)
Airy Chokyosai (act. CA. 1789-1801)
Toshusai sharaku (act. 1794-95)
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)
Katsukawa Shuncho (act. CA.1780’s-early 1800-ies)
Shunsho Katsukawa (1726-93)


'Shunga, the Art of love in Japan' (1975) – Tom and Mary Evans
'the complete Ukiyo-e woodblock' (Ed. 3 (1995) – R. Lane
'Japanese Erotic Prints' (2002) – Inge Klompmakers
'Japanese Erotic Fantasy' (2005) – K. Uhlenbeck and M. Winkel
'In The Japanese Print – A New Approach' (1960) – John. Hiller

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