Artwork by Kobayashi Eitaku

Kobayashi Eitaku was a 19th-century Japanese painter and illustrator whose graphic talent livened up many novels at the time. He was a notable erotic artist, making a series of paintings which depict bestiality in a rather unusual way. Eitaku is additionally important in comic history for creating a scroll titled 'Decomposition Of A Female Corpse', which shows a gradual decomposition of a dead woman, spread over nine successive images. 

Early life
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).

'Decomposition of a female corpse'
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". In 2008 the work was purchased by the British Museum.

The Drawing Book of Designs for Everything
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.

Bestiality series
Eitaku made another intriguing series of thematically connected but untitled paintings based on erotic scenes. However, the imagery is more disturbing than titillating, since it involves bestiality. Not only that: all animals are depicted realistically but have the same size as a human. The artist depicts a woman being mounted by respectively a gigantic mouse, toad, monkey, horse, squid and a bat. 

Death and legacy
Eitaku passed away in 1890. One of his apprentices was Meiji era woodblock artist Eisen Tomioka (1864-1905), who studied under him at the age of 18.

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