'Setsugekka', in English usually called 'Snow, Moon and Flower', is a major print series by the Meiji artist Chikanobu Toyoharu. This article describes the series and the historical classification with the Meiji era.
Setsugekka - Snow, Moon and Flowers
The series 'Setsugekka' was published between 1884 and 1886 by different publishers. It consists of 50 sheets. The title of the series - Setsugekka - Snow, Moon and Flowers - goes back to an old Chinese poem. Snow, moon and flowers stand as an analogy to the 4 seasons. But the narrative of the series is not a contemplation on the 4 seasons. The 'leitmotif' of the series are rather events from Japanese history and mythology,and for some designs also from the Chinese history.
Those who are a bit familiar with Japanese prints from the Meiji era will see some parallels with the series of 'Hundred Aspects of the Moon', by Yoshitoshi (Taiso) Tsukioka, another great print designer of the Meiji period. Both series deal with Japan's past.
This looking back as a key note of Setsugekka and the Hundred Aspects of the Moon is not a coincidence. The 'leitmotif' of these 2 series was not the result of a sudden stroke of genius by the 2 designers, Chikanobu and Yoshitoshi. It was rather the demand of the market, the taste of the common public, i.e. the potential buyer for these prints, that defined the subject of new prints.
Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) has always been produced for the market, and the market were the common people of Edo (Tokyo) and other metropolises like Osaka, Kyoto or Yokohama. After the establishment of the Western-oriented Meiji government under the formal presentation of the young emperor Meiji, a new nationalism and pride in Japan's history had gained the upperhand among the Japanese public. And there was another reason that spurred a new interest in Japan's past. The old censorship laws of the Tokugawa shogunate that had made it impossible for ukiyo-e artists and publishers to make designs referring to actual historic events or personalities, had been abolished by the Meiji government.
All these factors encouraged ukiyo-e publishers and artists to create prints with themes from Japan's 'glorious' past. The Setsugekka series must be seen against this historic background.
Who was Chikanobu?
Chikanobu Toyohara was born in 1838 in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, into a samurai family with the given name of Hashimoto. He served as a retainer at the shogun's court. After the breakdown of the shogunate, Chikanobu needed a new job to make a living. He decided for an artist career. Before the breakdown of the shogunate he was trained in Kano school painting and later at studios of the ukiyo-e masters Kuniyoshi, Kunisada and Kunichika Toyohara (a print designer with the same name but different from the later Meiji master Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900). Hashimoto took both the last name and the second part of his master's first name as his new artist name and became Chikanobu Toyohara.
During his lifetime Chikanobu designed prints in a wide variety of genres - basically everything that had good prospects to sell in the market. Chikanobu was able to combine retrograde themes with modern Western style elements like a new way to display clouds or mist, which at the early 20th century was further developed by the shin hanga art movement.
Chikanobu died in 1912.
Setsugekka - Snow, Moon and Flowers - by Chikanobu Toyohara