Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-1770)

Much about Harunobu's life is unknown. His work suggests a strong possible influence from Okumura Masanobu, an ukiyoe artist and publisher in Edo, and Nishikawa Sukenobu, an ukiyoe painter in Kyoto. During the Meiwa era (1764-1772), a popular custom in Edo was exchanging picture calendars (egoyomi). These calendars, into which producers put a great deal of creative ingenuity, vied with one another in both design and the richness of their colors, and as a result the techniques of color printing made quantum leaps forward.

Just 20 or so years previously, the invention of so-called benizuri-e had made it possible to print ukiyoe in three or four colors, but already it was becoming possible to print about ten different colors on a single sheet of paper. It was Harunobu who first applied this new technique to ukiyoe prints. Such prints were called nishiki-e (brocade pictures) since their beauty was likened to that of elaborate nishiki brocade textiles. These early nishiki-e of Harunobu were the origin of the multicolored ukiyoe with which we are most likely to be familiar today. The year of their origin can be traced, quite precisely, to 1765. Harunobu produced in his lifetime some 700 nishiki-e, many of them portraits, very popular among the urban population, of delicate, doll-like beautiful women.