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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Monika Hinkel (geb. Retterath)

Monika Hinkel (geb. Retterath)

Monika Hinkel (geb. Retterath)
Japanese Studies, Oriental Art History
(PhD Students, May 1, 2003 - April 30, 2004)

  • Japanese woodblock prints of the Meiji era (1868-1912)
  • Japonism: Influence of Japanese woodblock prints on German art
  • History of German collections of Japanese woodblock prints

Ph.D. Thesis
The Historical Prints of the Woodblock Print Artist Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)

The thesis “The Historical Prints of the Woodblock Print Artist Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)” introduces the artist’s prints (ukiyo-e) from the late Edo and Meiji period. Kunichika was one of the last great ukiyo-e artists, and was active during an important phase of Japanese history when Japan experienced immense political, social and cultural changes.

The thesis begins by introducing Kunichika as a representative of Edo period ukiyo-e in the field of historical prints. Even during the later era of “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) Kunichika maintained these cultural and artistic roots, and continued to design prints in the established genres of the Edo period: portraits of Kabuki actors (yakusha-e) and beautiful women (bijin-ga). However, these topics were not his only feature, and he also incorporated historical prints (rekishi-e) into his work. The dissertation examines the various aspects of his historical prints, which serve as important cultural, historical and social documents of the Edo and Meiji era. However, the main focus of the analysis lies on his prints of the Meiji period, his Meiji-e and kaika-e. Examples of the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e, like yakusha-e, bijin-ga and views of famous places (meisho-e), will be used to show to what extent Kunichika was influenced by the Westernization of the bunmei kaika period and in what different ways changes in the contemporary scene were reflected in his print design. In addition two special topics of the Meiji-e that Kunichika incorporated into his work: gosho-e, depictions of the emperor and the imperial palace; and dōjidai-e, prints of contemporary events, are introduced since these motifs are a special feature of the Meiji period woodblock print.

The aim of this research is to highlight the relevance of culture history beyond the art-historical significance of Kunichika’s woodblock prints, and seeks to answer the following questions: How much was Kunichika’s print design influenced by the political, cultural and social changes of his time? Which contemporary incidents did he decide to depict? And what are the characteristics of his historical prints, especially in comparison to the works of his contemporaries? Even though Kunichika’s historical prints are probably the smallest part in his work, a well-founded discourse on Kunichika’s historical prints and their collections has not, so far, been undertaken and there is a requirement for Kunichika’s work to be presented from this new point of view to make future evaluation of the inventory of all his prints possible.