Okumura Masanobu (奥村政信) (artist late 1680s - early 1760s)

Baiō (go - 梅翁)
Bunkaku (go - 文角)
Chikatai (family name)
Gempachi (nickname - 源八)
Genroku (nickname - 源六)
Hōgetsudō (go - 方月堂)
Masanobu (go - 政信)
Shidōken (go - 志道軒)
Tanchōsai (go - 丹鳥斎)
Okumura Shinmyō (family name - 奥村親妙)



Common name: Genpachi (Genpachirō); Shinmyō (from 1707), Baiō (from 1707), Hōgetsudō (from Genbun era, 1736-41), Tanchōsai and Bunkaku (both from Enkyō era [?], 1744-8). Ukiyo-e painter, print artist and innovative print publisher, also author and illustrator early in his career. Studied haikai poetry under Tachiba (Shōgetsudō) Fukaku (Sen'ō, 1662-1753). Said to have been influenced by the work of Moronobu... and Kiyonobu..., and his earliest dated work is a copy of Kiyonobu I's Illustrated Book of Courtesans of 1700... published by Kurihara Chōemon in the eighth month of 170a. From 1703 to 1711 he designed illustrations for at least 22 ukiyo-zōshi novels and puppet theatre playbooks, notably three works also written by him that parodied Tale of Genji. In the Hōei and Shōtoku eras (1704-16) Masanobu designed ō-ōban prints of beautiful women, horizontal ōban sumizuri-e 'parody pictures' (mitat-e) and actor prints, and hosoban tan-e actor prints - all influenced by the prevailing Torii and Kaigetsudō school styles. Masanobu's later actor prints concentrate on female roles, leaving leading male parts to the Torii artists. The most complete listing of sets of sumizuri-e by Masanobu contains fourteen items, each of which probably originally comprised twelve designs and was sold as a folding album. These established the range of subjects and treatments for mitat-e by many later 18th-century artists. From 1718 Masanobu produced hosoban beni-e for various publishers and, by the following year at the latest, was publishing designs himself under the Okamura-ya imprint from premises located at Tōrishio-chō (subsequently adopting as his trademark a gourd-shaped publisher's seal). The beni-e often used the new decorative technique of painting deer glue (nikawa) over areas of black to produce a sheen resembling black lacquer (urushi-e, 'lacquer pictures'). Masanobu credited himself with many other innovations in technique, format and style made in ukiyo-e printmaking during the second quarter of the 18th century, but, as with his frequent claims that his 'genuine' works were being pirated, it is hard to judge to what extent this was advertising hyperbole. Certainly, from the early 1740s he was very active in two new important print genres: 'pillar pictures' (hashira-e) and perspective pictures (uki-e, 'floating pictures'). The earliest benizuri-e (two-colour prints, generally in red and green) known by him is a picture calendar (egoyomi) of 1742. From c. 1750 he also used the new larger ōban print format. Other innovations with which he may have been connected were triptychs of hosoban prints and so-called 'stone print pictures' (ishizuri-e) - woodblock prints featuring white outlines in reserve against black backgrounds, like a stone rubbing. His erotic masterpiece in the print medium is the album of hand-coloured ōban designs Neya no hinagata, which is generally dated to the Genbun (1736-41) or Kanpō (1741-4) era. In the early 1740s Masanobu may have handed over the running of his publishing business to a successor, Okumura-ya Genroku, and seems to have ceased artistic activity altogether during the later Hōreki era (1751-64), perhaps after 1756.

More than 30 paintings by Masanobu have been published, mainly of courtesans but including a few actors. His most notable erotic work in this medium is a handscroll given the title Neya no iro-goromo (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 09.241), dated to the Shōtoku era. Several paintings treat or parody jōruri themes encountered in his printed mitate-e, including the meeting between Princess Shokushi and Fujiwara no Teika at the latter's villa at Mount Ogura, and Matsukaze, Murasame and Yukihira at Suma. Also of note is the half-size, six-panel folding screen Performance at the Nakamura Theatre (Nakamura-za kabuki shibai byōbu, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo), which was painted in the seventh month of 1731 and records that year's New Year performance at the Nakamura Theatre."

Quoted from: The Dawn of the Floating World by Timothy Clark, pp. 51-52.


Jacob Pins and Sarah Thompson have different views of the role of Okumura Masanobu in the history of hashira-e

Pins's view of Masanobu's role

"Traditionally Okumura Masanobu was credited with the invention of the pillar print in 1741 or 1742. A number of his early pillar prints bear his signature with the addition hashira-e kongen which had always been translated as "originator" or "inventor" of the pillar print. Lately, however, in a very scholarly article, Dr. Julian Lee has shown that this interpretation is inaccurate and kongen should be translated, in this context, as "superb" or "outstanding". Consequently Masanobu's claim to the invention of the pillar print should be discarded. There previously had been serious doubts about this claim particularly as three other artists, Toyonobu, Shigenaga and Kiyoshige, had created hashira-e almost at the same time as Masanobu's first ones. Julius Kurth even named Kiyoshige as the originator (Der Japanische Holzschnitt, 1921).

Now it seems that Dr. Lee's interpretation of the word kongen has settled this question for good; Masanobu was certainly one of the first artists to use this shape but probably not the first or its originator."

Thompson's view of Masanobu's role

Sarah E. Thompson in her 2008 essay 'The Original Source (Accept No Substitutes!): Okumura Masanobu' in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680-1860 wrote on page 71:

"The final third of Masanobu's print career began in the early 1740s when he brought out three important new lines: pillar prints (hashira-e); perspective prints (uki-e) that employed Western-style vanishing-point perspective; and color-printed images using red and green blocks (benizuri-e) in addition to the basic black key block. Masanobu began to apply the term kongen not just as a general claim of quality and (unspecified) originality, but to imply that he was indeed the inventor of these new images.

The pillar prints are most likely Masanobu's innovation. Many of them include the words hashira-e kongen (originator of pillar prints) in his signature, not in the publisher's seal. The only indication of the publisher is the gourd-shaped sign of the Okumuraya, which contains "Tanchōsai," another of Masanobu's art names. His intent was to make these prints resemble paintings, a return to the successful large-format prints of the 1710s at which he had excelled."