Nishikawa Sukenobu

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  • Born: 1671
  • Death: 1750
  • Japanese: 西川祐信 (Nishikawa Sukenobu)

Nishikawa Sukenobu was a prominent early ukiyo-e artist and designer of book illustrations in the Kyoto area. Even more prolific than his rough contemporaries Hishikawa Moronobu (d. 1694) and Yoshida Hanbei (active c. 1664-1690), Sukenobu designed thousands of illustrations for over two hundred books.

He trained from a young age in the painting styles of the Kanô and Tosa schools; it is said he trained specifically under Kanô Einô and Tosa Mitsusuke[1], only first beginning to produce book illustrations and other works of "popular" art around 1698. Shortly afterward he began working with the Hachimonjiya publishers/booksellers, producing illustrations for ukiyo-e zôshi, yakusha hyôbanki (actor critiques & rankings), and other works. His name first appeared on the colophon for a book in 1708, and the first illustrated book (ehon) he fully designed himself was published in 1723[1].

Many of his works prominently feature beautiful women, many of them showing particular creativity and taste in inventing kimono designs; Sukenobu was in fact commissioned on several occasions by kimono-makers to create textile designs for them.

Most of his works, however, are said to have focused upon romantic fictions or the hobbies and pleasures of the women of Kyoto. Ukiyo-e expert Richard Lane writes that Sukenobu's style was profoundly influential, and characterized by a "subdued conception of lovely, unobtrusive grace (perhaps closer to actual Japanese womanhood than that of any other artist"[2].

Sukenobu is also known for his shunga, or erotica. Between the years 1710 and 1733, at least thirty volumes of erotica designed by Sukenobu were published; roughly one-third of these were published between 1719 and 1722.[3]

Sukenobu is not said to have had any direct pupils of particular note. While his work is said to have been a significant influence upon the entire ukiyo-e tradition, its influence is most especially seen in the work of Suzuki Harunobu.


  • Lane, Richard. Images from the Floating World. New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1978. pp56-58.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Edo no yûwaku: bosuton bijutsukan shozô nikuhitsu ukiyoe ten (江戸の誘惑・ボストン美術館所蔵肉筆浮世絵展、"The Allure of Edo: Ukiyo-e Painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston"). Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun-sha, 2006. p186.
  2. Lane. p58.
  3. "The Arts of the Bedchamber: Japanese Shunga." Exhibition Website. Honolulu Museum of Art, 2012.