Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), a pupil of the Hokusai school, was the first of the three leading ukiyo-e masters (the other two were Kunisada and Kuniyoshi) who started to produce in the shunga genre during the Bunsei/Tenpo era (1820s to 1844).
Although Kunisada was already a very popular artist in the Bunka period (1804-1818), long before Keisai Eisen, the latter debuted in the shunga genre in 1811, fourteen years before Kunisada and seventeen years before Kuniyoshi.
The explanation for this is that Kunisada’s teacher Utagawa Toyokuni, was so intimidated by the authorities in 1804 that he (and his school) decided not to design shunga for more than 15 years.
Unlike Kunisada, Eisen was not censored by his teacher (Eizan) from working in shunga, and he took up his brush early in his career. Eisen’s talents were not limited to illustrations only. He was also an inspired writer and calligrapher. Almost all his shungabooks from the Bunka and Bunsei era were written and illustrated by Eisen himself.
The extensive breeding ground that fuelled Eisen’s decadent aesthetic seems to have emerged from his boredom and unfriendliness which was rooted in his experiences as an adolescent.
In his autobiography Eisen wrote: “I served as a samurai and had high aspirations, but became a masterless samurai in my youth, and our family was poor. My father died one summer and my mother in the winter, early in the Bunka era, leaving me to raise my three little sisters. Falling victim to a slander’s tongue, I became a ronin – masterless man.”
Of all ukiyo-e artists there’s no one who added more sex toys and devices to his shunga designs than Keisai Eisen (see Fig.3). He most probably was paid by the famous sex shop Yotsumeya. This store was specialized in sexual toys, aphrodisiacs, intensifying lotions and numerous remedies against sex-related ailments. Yotsumeya had departments in Edo, Kyoto and Osaka.
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* The dialogue between the young male and the woman in Fig.2 reads:
Woman: “You are not circumcised.”
Man: “I know about it!!”