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Shiba Kokan

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western-style painter
Japanese, (1747–1818)
Yoga and ukiyo-e painter, printmaker. Born in Edo. Studied under So Shiseki, Suzuki Harunobu, Hiraga Gennai. In 1783 became first Japanese painter to try copperplate engraving: View of Mimeguri. Learned about oil painting and etching from books he saw in Nagasaki. Felt native culture was exhausted; became interested in Western art, on which he wrote an essay—the first such article in Japan—saying it was superior to Chinese and Japanese painting because it depicted light and shade and was useful for explanatory book illustrations. His yoga work is a strange mixture of European and Japanese elements, too amateurish to be important as art but important as a symptom of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and need for change. His writings include a book of memoirs, Shumparo Hikki and a travel book on Nagasaki with illustrations of foreign residents and their houses. Used the ukiyo-e go of Suzuki Harushige from about 1769 to 1775, skillfully imitating Harunobu's style. It is said that he designed a number of prints and paintings to which he added Harunobu's signature after Harunobu's death—works that were accepted as genuine by his contemporaries. However, his ukiyo-e style was marked by a greater use of Western-style perspective, and his figures are often less delicate, rather mediocre work. Ended as a nanga painter. -- Roberts, L. Dictionary of Japanese Artists (1980)

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