Kochô (The Butterfly), 1899

By Tsukioka Kogyo

Tsukioka Kogyo was a prominent printmaker in the late nineteenth century. Using the popular Ukiyo-e style of printmaking, Kogyo is notable for the revival of Japanese Noh theatre. Dating from 1899, these prints come from a series of woodcuts he designed from 1897-1926 and provide one of the richest sources of historical and artistic information available for this aristocratic form of drama.

Ukiyo-e is a popular style of Japanese printmaking from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in which the print is created by carving into a woodblock. Certain areas of the woodblock are colored and then pressed into the paper and the process is repeated for each color of the print. Concentrating on the elaborate costumes that Noh theatre was known for, many of Kogyo’s woodcuts display individual printings of silver, gold, and even overlays of mica grounds. Kogyo’s printing technique is exceptionally advanced, and his style is often recognizable because it is very soft, fluid, and appears more similar to a watercolor than a woodcut print.

Noh, a type of Japanese theatre, was popular among aristocrats during the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration as Japan began to open up to the West, Noh plays became a dying art form. They were revived and preserved in part by the work of Kogyo, whose works became famous for their depictions of Noh theatre. These prints were published in several bound volume sets called the Nôgaku Zue (Series from the Noh Theatre).

As some of the oldest works in our collection, these prints were for a long time unknown and unattributed to Kogyo. When they originally came into the collection, a set of 12 prints was gifted as part of the original Lory Student Center furnishings. Throughout the years, six of the prints had been stolen or gone missing. It was not until preparation for the renovation of the north end of the Student Center, in an attempt to translate these prints, that the works were reevaluated and attributed to Kogyo. A major discovery for the LSC collection, these prints will make their grand reappearance after the renovation of the Student Center.