Shunbaisai Hokuei (春梅斎北英) (artist before 1837)

Sekka (go - 雪華)
Sekkarō (go - 雪花楼)
Shun'yosai (go - 春陽斎)
Shunbaitei (go - 春梅亭)
Shunkō (go - 春江)
Shunkōsai (go - 春江斎)



Active from about 1829 - 1837 Shunbaisai Hokuei was a master artist of the third period of Osaka printmaking. Many of his prints were technical marvels employing advanced block-cutting and printing techniques.

Hokuei used a tension-filled dramatic approach toward actor portraiture in which he sometimes positioned isolated figures against monochromatic backgrounds to emphasize the actors' expressions and emotional states. He experimented with unusual placements of solitary figures, which when combined with articulated gestures, postures, and facial expressions created an air of mystery, intrigue, and danger. Hokuei also arranged solitary figures to suggest related action beyond the single sheet, which added a sense of uncertainty and dramatic possibility that compelled the viewer to fill in the missing story.


Roger Keyes wrote about Hokuei in The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, pp. 29-30:

"Hokushū's main pupil was an artist named Hokuei who worked briefly from the late 1820s to the mid-1830s. Virtually nothing is known of his life beyond his name and address... and a surimono-style portrait of the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV, which was published posthumously in the spring of 1837 as a memorial to the artist with a eulogy from his publisher... Hokuei was worthy of his lineage and produced, often in collaboration with the engraver Kasuke, some of the masterpieces of the Osaka surimono style.... Around 1839 a new range of luminous, saturated colors began to appear in the prints of Hokuei and Shigeharu, which combined with the earlier techniques to lift the surimono style to its apogee. The style ceased abruptly in 1837 in the face of the city's political and economic disturbances. The technique but not the scale of these sumptuous ōban was revived successfully in the late 1840s."


The artist Hokuei was a pupil of Hokushū, whose portrait style greatly influenced Hokuei’s in characteristic bulging eyes and large ovoid jaws. Hokuei was a pioneer in applying luxury surimono effects to actor portrait woodcuts, such as precious metals and deep embossing. This deluxe example is part of a set which required no less than three master carvers and two printers to accomplish. Hokuei is known to have designed more than 250 compositions including some recognized as the most technically complex ukiyo-e prints ever produced.


After Hokuei's death, Osaka print publication languished.