Former Samurai Depicts Life in 19th Century Japan

The beautifully executed and detailed work of Chikanobu, one of the most prolific artists of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), will be on display at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps from September 1 through October 22. All the prints in the exhibition, curated by Professor Bruce Coats, are from the Scripps College collections. Coats is also author of the book that will serve as the exhibition’s catalogue.

Chikanobu created the designs for several thousand woodblock prints and illustrated books. His elaborately detailed full color prints, called nishiki-e or “brocade prints,” documented current events in Japan as the country rapidly modernized in the 1870s and 1880s and depicted contemporary and historical figures as well as kabuki actors and legendary characters.

Chikanobu came from a samurai background and was involved in several battles in the 1860s as the military government of the shogun was replaced by a new imperial bureaucracy (Chikanobu was on the losing side). He was captured, released, captured again, and jailed for his loyal support of the old regime. Eventually, he was allowed to resume his interests in art, and he began to produce print designs in the mid-1870s.

Following the showing at Scripps, the exhibition will travel in 2007 to Carleton College, Vassar College, Denison University, Boston University, and DePaul University. In late 2008, the exhibition will open in Tokyo at the International Christian University and then travel to other museums in Japan. The exhibition tour, the catalogue, and a symposium at Scripps on September 16-17, 2006, on Meiji culture are sponsored in part by two Mellon Foundation “faculty career enhancement” grants.

For more detail on Chikanobu and the exhibit, visit the College’s website at