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Fireflies at Kinu River at Tennoji

Date: c.1920s-1930s, published by the Shima Print Co., with publishers round red crane over Mt. Fuji seal at lower left below Kiyochika's signature
Size: chuban, approx. 7.375" x 10.25"
Condition: VG, minor flaws as shown, uncirculated print, never framed
Impression: Fine, solid key lines, nice surface texture, tight registration
Color: Fine, deep saturated color and bleed through to verso
Provenance: From the Robert O. Muller estate (see below for more information)
Fireflies swarm among the bushes lining the Kinu River.
In the distance two travelers approach a warmly lit riverside home.

Kobayashi was born in Edo as the son of the head of the Shogun’s warehouse, and at the of 15 he inherited the family estate after his father’s death. He went through a period of upheaval during the Meiji Restoration as a shogun’s retainer and became an art student in 1874. Two years later he gained popularity after presenting landscape prints called kosenga, a style of print that incorporated Western-style perspective, an effect of light and gradation of shadows in traditional ukiyo-e. His outstanding works include “Tokyo Shimohashi Ame Uchuzu” (Rainy Scene at Shimohashi Bridge in Tokyo) and “Kudanzaka Satsukiyo” (May Evening at Kudanzaka). He later drew caricatures called “Kiyochika Ponchi.”

In the great fire of Ryogoku in 1881, Kobayashi’s house burned down while he was out sketching. He returned to Genzuke-cho in Shiba, and ironically the work he produced during the fire was such a success that it was reprinted many times. Although he produced portraits and colored prints about the Sino-Japanese War, ukiyo-e gradually diminished in popularity. Kiyochika is called The Last Great Ukiyo-e Artist, and was deeply loved in his own time by many people who had a warm attachment to Edo.

Robert O. Muller’s love affair with Japanese prints began one day in the 1930s, when as a student in New York City he spotted a Hasui in a gallery window, and immediately arranged to purchase the print. As a newly wed in 1940 he went on a print shopping tour to Japan with his wife where he met the shin hanga publisher Watanabe Shozaburo and Watanabe’s stable of artists including: Kawase Hasui, Shiro Kasamatsu, and Ito Shinsui. He also met and befriended Hiroshi Yoshida.

After WWII, Muller continued to deal in Japanese prints, but he was also an avid collector with a keen eye for good art. Although the Muller estate is best known for shin hanga, Mr. Muller also collected late nineteenth century prints and good reproductions of famous Edo masters.

When Mr. Muller passed away on April 10, 2003, he had left possibly the largest and finest estate of 20th century Japanese prints in the world, and the question of what would become of his notorious estate was a major topic among Japanese print collectors. The finest 20th century prints from his estate were given as a gift to the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and an exhibit was mounted. Other portions of the estate were sold at auction and still more remains with his heirs. Several books have been published about the estate.

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