A Japanese Menagerie: Animal Pictures by Kawanabe Kyōsai

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British Museum Press, 2006 - Animals - 112 pages
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There is a long and vital tradition in East Asian art of animal painting. In Japan, pictures of animals have often been imbued with human characteristics for humorous, even satirical purposes. Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89) was a highly individualistic painter of the late Edo and early Meiji eras, his career spanning from the end of the feudal system to the beginnings of rapid modernization. His name meant 'crazy studio' and in the 1860s he developed a new genre of 'crazy pictures' (kyoga). Kyosai's works range from painstakingly detailed painted works, to spontaneous and inspired sketches dashed off while drinking prodigious amounts of sake. Many of his designs were made into popular colour prints and illustrated books. Kyosai found an important source of inspiration for his art in the example of the medieval monk-painter Toba Sojo (Kakuyu, 1053-1140), whose comic sketches of animals were thought to satirise the pretensions of the society of his time. In a similar way, Kyosai often made animals the agents for his own light-hearted commentary on the new Meiji Japan. This book illustrates seventy-two of Kyosai's most colourful and comic pictures of animals, from cats to mice, and frogs to elephants. Beautifully designed, and with three short introductory chapters on the artist and his work, and a foreword by Israel Goldman, this is a perfect introduction to the weird and wonderful animal-inhabited world of Kyosai.

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About the author (2006)

Timothy Clark is Professor of English at Durham University.

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