Mizuno Toshikata (1866–1908), a student of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), became one of the most prolific artists in the genre of kuchi-e, the multicolor, woodblock-printed frontispieces for popular fiction that were produced from the 1890s through the 1910s.
Educational reforms after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 dramatically improved the literacy rate of Japanese women. In response to this new audience, literary journals such as Literary Club (Bungei Kurabu, published 1895–1933) featured serialized romance novels, which were illustrated with a kuchi-e print, folded into thirds and included at the beginning of the magazine. While the artwork was originally intended to depict a scene from one of the stories, due to strict publication deadlines and the time-intensive nature of woodblock printmaking, by around 1902, artists began to produce “stand-alone” kuchi-e (frequently portraits of beautiful women) that had no direct connection to the narratives. Around 1914, the rising popularity of photography and lithographic prints led to the death of kuchi-e as a genre.
Nevertheless, recent publications such as A Survey of Woodblock Kuchi-e Prints (Mokuhan kuchi-e sōran) by Yamada Nanako (b. 1939) have drawn attention to the aesthetic value and art-historical importance of these often overlooked artworks.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website