Asia Society

Suzuki Harunobu: Prints in Full Color

Suzuki Harunobu (1725?–1770) was the first ukiyo-e artist to make full-color prints employing from five to seven color blocks in addition to the black key-block. He used the new technique first in 1765, in New Year calendar designs commissioned and partly conceived by poetry groups in Edo. Within two years commercial versions of these and other prints began to be issued on a large scale, and the Japanese color print as we know it was launched. Harunobu is most famous for his depictions of beautiful, sylphlike women and for his outstanding sense of design and color. His work is rich in literary or topical allusion, and he often quotes classical or other poems, but the accompanying illustrations are usually take-offs that gently poke fun at the subject. He died suddenly around the age of forty-five, having produced more than 1,000 single-sheet designs, some twenty-five illustrated books, and a handful of paintings. Though he borrowed motifs and figures from earlier artists, he usually improved on the original. Harunobu inspired the generation of artists that followed him, and his themes were still influencing artists a hundred years later.