Paul Binnie A Frontispiece Illustration of 1900

Paul Binnie “A Frontispiece Illustration of 1900” artwork
A new print design for , and also the first image in a new series of Japanese beauties, Kuchi-e (Frontispiece Illustration), will be the first in a series called Hyakunen no Hana (Flowers of a Hundred Years). The series will highlight the changing roles, political and social situations and lifestyles of women in Japan in the 20th century, decade by decade. The full title of the first print is Senkyuhyaku-nen no Kuchi-e (A Frontispiece Illustration of 1900), and it shows a young, middle-class woman looking at the woodblock printed illustration in the front of a copy of Bungei Kurabu, a very popular literary magazine aimed at a female audience. By 1900 there were several magazines like this one, all of which serialised works of new and older fiction and might include poetry and criticism. The important point is that by this time, the educational reforms of the Meiji government meant that women were now on an equal footing with men in being taught to read and write to a functioning level, so Japan had become a nation with universal literacy. The situation was such that the female population, which had remained largely neglected during the previous Edo period, now had the skills to read and write competently and had access to literature, even supporting a specific genre of literary magazines aimed at women. The model has a reformed hairstyle, looser than the traditional Shimada hairstyle and closer to the circa 1900 ‘Gibson Girl’ hairstyle of Western nations, and she has chosen to have no combs or decorations in it, even though she continues to wear kimono and not Western dress, symbolic of the types of stylistic mixes one sees around Meiji 33 (1900). This new style of hair tends to be linked to educated, forward-thinking women in illustrations of the period, and so seems right for our literate magazine subscriber. In the print the young woman is studying a kuchi-e of a Heian beauty, a popular subject at the time and also in this case a reference to the great literary women of the past, such as Murasaki Shikibu, Sei no Shonagon and Ono no Komachi, among many others. The kuchi-e is palely printed using baren sujizuri to suggest that we are seeing the reverse of the image, and the darker green on the cover of the book as well as the background are highlighted with sprinkled mica. In addition, the collar of her inner kimono is embellished with 24 carat gold squares, printed in a kirigane or cut gold style, and the edge of the leaves of the magazine are embossed, as are the title and series title in the upper left margin, and Binnie in the lower margin.
Paul Binnie
Paul Binnie
A Frontispiece Illustration of 1900
Japanese title
1900-nen no Kuchi-e 一九〇〇年の口絵
Series title
Flowers of a Hundred Years
Japanese series title
Hyakunen no Hana 百年の華
Colour woodblock print on paper
Paper dimensions (h × w)
47.6 × 33.5 cm
Image dimensions (h × w)
Edition size
Artist's proofs
National Library of Australia collection. Exhibited in an exhibition of kuchi-e titled Melodrama in Meiji Japan June-August 2017
Catalogue number
135 (L155)
Supplementary images