Universiteit Leiden

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Reconsidering Katsushika Ōi

  • Professor Julie Nelson Davis (University of Pennsylvania)
Wednesday 10 November 2021
Leiden Lecture Series in Japanese Studies
Online via Zoom (link to the lecture below)
This lecture will be held via Zoom: click here for the link. 
Katsushika Ōi (ca. 1800-1860) was regarded in her lifetime as an exceptional artist. Her famous father, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), wrote that her pictures of beautiful women were better than his own, while another contemporary artist commented that she had made a “reputation as a talented painter.”  Yet only some dozen paintings and a few illustrated books bear her signature as work of her own. Given her reputation, why are there so few works remaining from the hand of Ōi? This talk reconsiders Ōi’s career, style, and legacy in the context of Katsushika house style, arguing that positing “late Hokusai” as a singular genius leaves out the potential for Ōi’s contribution as a “ghost brush.” How this upholds false narratives (where the brush of mastery is singular as well as male) is shown as a means of producing another kind of “ghost,” one where workshop practice and collaboration have been vanished in the construction of Hokusai in the Meiji period, when the history of Japanese art was rewritten for reception abroad as well as for profit.

About Julie Nelson Davis

Julie Nelson Davis specializes in the arts and material cultures of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japan, with a focus on prints, paintings, and illustrated books. One of the leaders in the field of ukiyo-e (“images of the floating world”), Davis takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding these works in context, exploring issues related to artistic practice, authorship, gender, and censorship, among others. Davis’s first book, Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (Reaktion Books, 2007), explores the status of the artist and the construction of gender, identity, sexuality and celebrity through the work of Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). Her second book, Partners in Print: Artistic Collobration and the Ukiyo-e Market (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), offers a new approach to understanding the print culture in early modern Japan within the context of networks of commercial and artistic collaboration. In Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (2021), her most recent book, Davis debunks long-held myths about ukiyo-e as little appreciated in their own time, writing a more nuanced evaluation wherein consumers, critics, and makers produced and sold, appraised and collected, described and recorded ukiyo-e as valuable and artistic works.

Link to the lecture (Zoom)

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