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A hand-painting of tiger lillies

A Captivating Collection of Hand-Coloured Flowers...


Made by one of the pioneers of Japanese photography, these images reflect the refinement of a culture and the beauty that only a great artist could achieve.

There’s a charm to hand-colored photographs, and the Japanese were masters of the technique. Since the mid-19th century, photography was a more or less common practice in the West. The possibility of capturing an image by means of light began to be normalized, although the nascent art had not yet reached one of its most coveted goals: that of seizing color.

Among the many techniques which arose toward this end was the practice of coloring captured photographs by hand. The 19th century saw the mastery of this craft process, and the Japanese archipelago was the cradle of some of its most spectacular exponents. Among them was Ogawa Kazumasa (1860-1929).

Kazumasa’s lifetime saw the opening of Japan to the outside world. He documented that opening in photographs, becoming one of the great pioneers of the art in a country which, having been closed to the rest of the world for centuries, saw itself suddenly and irreversibly flooded with everything foreign. Technology, science, arts, and everything imaginable shook the land of the rising sun. And some of the most impressive and representative photographs of this profound historical process were the work of this great master.

In the decade of the 1890s, Kazumasa published Some Japanese Flowers (1894), a collection of hand-colored photographs of flowers from which come the images shown below. Soon after, the photos arrived in the United States and were published as part of the volume Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese (1897). Today, a selection of Kazumasa’s flower images is available to all on the Public Domain Review website.

“For the mystery of the rose, that spends all its colour and can not see it,” wrote Borges in Another Poem of the Gifts. He was right: the flower and its essence can not be rightly displayed without the tones which delicately illuminate it. Kazumasa knew this, and the knowledge led him to highly unsuspected places.

hand-painting of peonies


hand-painting of nami-chi-dori


hand-painting of a lily


Hand-painting of mums


hand-painting of flowers


Hand-painting of pink and white lilies


Hand-painting of a tree peony


hand-painting of a pink flower and a budding flower


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