An image of Ogre chanting Buddhist prayer

Kawanabe Kyōsai

(Japan 1831 – 1889)

Ogre chanting Buddhist prayer

Not on display
Further information

Kyôsai is well known in the West with his humorous as well as serious paintings, drawings and prints. He was the Japanese teacher of Josiah Conder (1852-1920), a British architect who worked in Japan, at a time when it was more common for Japanese artists to study under Western teachers. This perhaps comes as no surprise given his mastery of drawings of virtually any subject and his dynamic composition. Yet Japanese art historians largely ignored him after the WWII.

From the age of six, for three years Kyôsai learned to draw under Utagawa Kuniyoshi whose influence is clearly seen in his later works, particularly those of animals, monsters and battle scenes. As Kyôsai was a son of a samurai family (though a low-ranking one), he enjoyed the privilege of a formal art education in the Kanô school from 1840 to 1853. During that period he became an adopted son of a master and worked on official commissions. This family/professional connection with the Kanô school came to an end when his stepfather died. Leaving the official school meant that he was now free to associate with the lesser ranking 'nanga' and 'ukiyo-e' artists and work in those styles. For the rest of his life, he worked in both formal and popular styles, with an extraordinarily wide repertoire of subjects. And it was some of his vulgar subjects (and an array of faked works) that eventually caused postwar art historians to devalue Kyôsai.

Kyôsai lived in an age of dramatic changes in Japanese history - the transition of power from the Shogunate to the Imperial government, from feudal to capitalist economy, and from a relative international seclusion to a sudden exposure to Western cultures and technology. His anti-authoritarian spirit found many targets for satirical prints and cartoons. Despite the fact that he was imprisoned for one of them in 1870, he continued to pour his energy and imagination to produce a vast array of subjects.

Ogres or 'oni', alongside animals and ghosts, were his favourite subjects. This 'oni' seems to be collecting donations for the temple, carrying 'hôkachô' (a list of donors) and a small drum in front of him. There seem to be different images of the same title, each depicting an 'oni' performing Buddhist duties.

Asian Art Dept., AGNSW, May 2000.

Place of origin
Japan: Edo (Tokugawa) period 1615–1868
woodblock print; ink and colour on paper
35.8 x 25.2 cm
Signature & date

Signed l.r., in Japanese, black ink, incised on block, [vertical] "Ôju Seisei Kyôsai (illeg.)".
Signed l.r. corner, in Japanese, red ink "[artist's seal]".

Asian Collection Benefactors' Fund 2000
Accession number