Kimbei KUSAKABE, Figures [Kimbei studio advertisement] Enlarge 1 /1

Kimbei KUSAKABE

Japan 1841 – 1934

Figures [Kimbei studio advertisement] c.1885 Place made: Japan
Materials & Technique: photographs, albumen prints, albumen silver photograph, colour dyes

Dimensions: image 26.0 h x 20.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.323

Hand-coloured photographs using the thinnest washes of dyes are a unique feature of late nineteenth-century photography in Japan. The Corfu-born British photographer Felice Beato pioneered the format in the 1860s by making use of skilled colourists working for the Japanese popular print market. From the 1860s to the 1880s the finest coloured individual prints took considerable time to complete, appearing almost like natural colour photographs. Later studios had production lines with one person colouring the same feature on one print after another.

Many Japanese photographers produced prints to cater to the demand from tourists for hand-coloured views and portraits of Japanese people. From the 1880s to the early 1900s the Yokohama studio of Kimbei Kusakabe was the most renowned for its range and style of coloured photographs, and for its speciality line of richly decorated, lacquer-covered photograph albums.

Kusakabe’s style favoured a cool mood and often slightly abstract design. This work is somewhat mysterious, as it shows very life-like figurines seemingly in conversation over one of K. Kimbei studio’s tiny carte-de-visite (calling card) portraits. The back of the card shows the usual printed studio stamp.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Beautiful photographs, hand-coloured using the thinnest washes of dyes, are a unique feature of late nineteenth-century photography in Japan. The Italian-British photographer Felice Beato pioneered the format in the 1860s by making use of skilled colourists working for the Japanese popular woodblock print market. From the 1860s to the 80s the finest coloured individual prints took considerable time to complete, appearing almost like natural colour photographs. Later studios had production lines with one person colouring the same feature on one print after another.

Many Japanese photographers produced prints to cater to the demand from tourists for hand-coloured views and portraits of ‘types’ of Japanese people. From the 1880s to the early 1900s the Yokohama studio of Kusakabe Kimbei was the most renowned for its range and style of coloured photographs, and for its speciality line of richly decorated, lacquer-covered photograph albums.

Kusakabe’s style favoured a cool mood and often slightly abstract design. This work is slightly mysterious, as it shows very lifelike figurines seemingly in conversation over one of the Kimbei studio’s tiny carte-de-visite (calling card) portraits.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014