Artwork by Kobayashi Eitaku

Kobayashi Eitaku was a 19th-century Japanese painter and illustrator whose graphic talent livened up many novels at the time. However, he has also gained modern interest through a series of nameless erotic drawings depicting bestiality in a rather unusual way. Eitaku also holds historical importance for creating a scroll which shows a female corpse decomposing. While gruesome to look at it’s also notable for comics history, since it is a complete sequential narrative.

Kobayashi Eitaku was born in Edo in 1843 as Kobayashi Shutaro. At the age of thirteen he became an apprentice of the painter Kano Eitoku (1815-1891). He moved his way up as court painter for the lords of Hikone. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), which re-established the Japanese emperor as the head of state, he produced illustrations for the Yokohama Mainichi Shinbun. He was well-known for creating many colour woodblock prints and chirimen-bon illustrations (the latter are books printed on crêpe paper, usually illustrating Japanese novels, fairy tales and mythology in English, French or German translations).


In the 1870s Eitaku made a scroll showing the decomposition of a female corpse, identified as a courtesan. In nine successive scenes we see a fully clothed body devolve into bony remains, scavenged by dogs. The work is quite graphic for its time and even today has the power to shock audiences, as the gradual decomposition is not stylized, but depicted realistically. This would give the eerie impression that Eitaku may have sketched and painted it from a real-life (or rather "dead") model. The work should be understood in a Buddhist context. "Kusozu" (illustrations of decomposing corpses) were popular in Japanse art, because they were considered a meditation on the temporary nature of life. It might also an erotic work, part of the "shunga tradition". Since 2008 the work is purchased by the British Museum.


In the 1880s Eitaku made 'The Drawing Book of Designs for Everything', a reference book for other graphic artists. This woodblock print is full with scenes ranging from nature landscapes, kabuki actors and even pure mythological creatures. Another intriguing series of paintings by Eitaku feature various erotic scenes, including several that invoke bestiality. Yet the animals appear to be fantastical rather than realistic, since many have a monstrous size. Eitaku depicts a woman being mounted by a gigantic mouse, toad, monkey, horse, squid and a bat.

One of Eitaku's apprentices was Meiji era woodblock artist Eisen Tomioka (1864-1905), who studied under him at the age of 18.

Series and books by Kobayashi Eitaku in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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