The son of a samurai named Kawahara of Edo, he was adopted by the Kikuchi family, who were old hereditary retainers of the Tokugawa clan. When eighteen, he became a pupil of Takata Enjō; but, after studying the principles of the Kanō, Shijō, and Maruyama schools, perhaps, under Ozui, a son of Ōkyo, he developed an independent style, having some affinities with that of Tani Bunchō.
His illustrated history of Japanese heroes, the Zenken Kojitsu, is a remarkable specimen of his power as a draughtsman in monochrome ink. In order to produce this work, and his many other portraits of historical figures, he performed extensive historical, and even archaeological, research. Zenken Kojitsu features over 500 major figures in Japanese history, and was originally printed as a series of ten woodblock printed books, in 1878.
Style of painting
Nakane Kōtei (中根 香亭) pointed out that Yōsai modelled the form of "Zenken Kojitsu (前賢故実)" on "Banshōdō Chikusō Gaden (晩笑堂竹荘画伝)" which was drawn by Jō Kan Syū (上官周). Kōtei also said that Yōsai was influenced by Hokusai when young. He thought of the calligraphy as much as the picture when he guided a pupil.
- Louis, Frederic (2002). Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Kikuchi, Yōsai; Yamashita, Shigetami (1903). 前賢故實: 考證(Zenken kojitsu: kōshō). 東陽堂(Tōyōdō).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - facsimile of works.
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