All of Musubi’s furoshiki wrapping cloths are beautiful enough to turn gifts and packages into mini artworks, but there are a few, designed by Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), that also have art history behind them.
Often regarded as one of Japan’s first pop artists, Takehisa Yumeji was a Taisho (1912-26) to early Showa era (1923-89) pioneer of Japanese painting, woodblock printing, illustration, textile and graphic design, not to mention an accomplished poet and writer. Yet, despite the popularity his work — so vibrant in color and bold in design — it was rarely taken seriously by the fine art community of his time.
Mention his name to Japanese artists today, and there are few who won’t appreciate his influential series of bijin-ga — Japanese “portraits of beautiful women.” Each wearing kimono featuring bold motifs or striking patterns, and united by Yumeji’s remarkable gift for colour schemes, they helped bring Japanese painting and printmaking into the modern era.
Musubi's Takehisa Yumeji Tsunagi Dango Furoshiki; Yumeji 1929 illustration of seagulls, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Though talented enough to win a national magazine illustration competition at the age of 22, Yumeji, surprisingly, never enrolled in an art school. Quite the rebel — a socialist sympathizer, illustrator for Japanese left-wing magazines and influenced by Western art — being self-taught likely led to rejections from Japan’s major art exhibitions. But with exclusion came the freedom to bend the strict rules of the Japanese art scene.
And he was prolific at it, producing graphic designs for stationery, small goods and textiles as well as artworks. He created book covers for Nobuko Yoshiya, one of Japan’s most successful women writers and pioneer of Japanese lesbian literature, and countless illustrations for other books and magazines.
Illustration of a woman in snow; and a music sheet cover of a woman in western dress, both by Takehisa Yumeji: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Sometimes described as a bit of a cad, with one failed marriage and several girlfriends, other times portrayed as a devoted lover, he often used his wife and girlfriends as models for his work. Though many of the women were pictured in traditional Japanese women’s roles — the nation’s suffrage movement was still in its infancy — his illustrations celebrated a burgeoning sense of women’s self-expression, prompted by the era of increasing Western influence. Not only did he portray women in kimono with unusually modern graphic prints, but he also illustrated women in western garments and produced his own fashionable textiles for yukata (Japanese summer wear).
We love how Musubi have drawn from his oeuvre, tweaking colours to create wrapping cloths that fit the contemporary lifestyle.
To see more furoshiki wrapping cloths, visit our full collection.
Read our other NiMi Projects journal articles here.