“Snowy Morning” (alternatively “Morning Snow”) by Settai Komura, privately published, 17.25 x 11.5 in., c.1924

The Art of Japan: “Snowy Morning” (alternatively “Morning Snow”) by Settai Komura, privately published, 17.25 x 11.5 in., the illustration was created or first published c. 1924, whereas the print reproduced above was made posthumously in 1942.

Many of Settai Komura’s print were published posthumously (I’m thankful to Richard Waldman for providing me with this information). In this particular case, I’ve found the likely date of creation (first publication) of the print in an article by The Japan Times (see below).

But first a few words about the source of this image and the life of Settai Komura. The Art of Japan is the official website of two art dealers ―Richard Waldman and Douglas Frazer― specialized “in fine Japanese prints and paintings 18th – 20th C.”. They provide a “bio” page for Settai Komura along with a quote from Donald Jenkins’s catalog Images of a Changing world, Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century (University of Washington Press, 1983). They currently have 12 prints to sell by Settai Komura.

Another biographical notice can be found in the book Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975 by Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada (University of Hawaii Press, 1995, p. 75).

However, a recent article in The Japan Times offers what appears to be the most detailed essay about Settai Komura available online at the moment: “Komura Settai finds a new modern audience” by Matthew Larking (July 9, 2010). His article is actually a review of the exhibition The World of Komura Settai: The Aesthetic Sense and Sensibility of an Unknown Virtuoso Painter held at the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum, Kyoto, in 2010. Here are a few excerpts, including one where the above print is identified and described:

It is often difficult to fathom how an artist so popular in his own time slides into oblivion in subsequent generations. 2010 has been a good year for one such artist, Komura Settai (1887-1940), who in his time was a prolific creator, producing illustrations, woodblock prints and stage designs. His recent artistic rehabilitation began with a large-scale exhibition of his varied career at the Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, followed by a special edition of the art monthly “Geijutsu Shincho” dedicated to the artist. […]

It was not until 1922, when he began work on book illustrations for the novelist Satomi Ton (1888-1983), that Komura’s career started to define itself. His illustrations for Kunieda Kanji’s (1892-1956) 1934 serialized novel “Osen,” which was published in the Asahi Shimbun, helped Komura’s reputation to spread further. Set between 1764-72, Kanji’s period novel followed the life of the heroine Osen, who worked in a tea house. It was ostensibly based upon a real beauty of the Edo Period depicted by the luminary ukiyo-e artist Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770), an artist whose artwork had a strong stylistic influence on the more minimalist work of Komura.

“Osen” (“Umbrella”) (c.1941) shows Komura’s representative style, with fine vertical lines of rain streaming down on a myriad of raised umbrellas of gathered townsfolk who are frantically searching for Osen.

Though successful as an illustrator, Komura occasionally revived his fine-art aspirations with non-narrative paintings. His “Fallen Leaves” (c. 1924) depicts an autumnal scattering on and around a roofed tatami-mat pavilion that is devoid of a subject other than the solitude with which the site is invested. Similarly, in “Willow Tree” (c. 1924) we find a shamisen and two drums set on the floor of a room that opens onto a veranda, and yet there is no one in sight to play them. The same is true of “Morning Snow” (c. 1924), in which the lights inside a traditional wooden house are on, but there is no human presence.

In theses images, it appears that Komura, who took up stage design for kabuki and film shortly after his debut as an illustrator, was transferring his design skills to fine art with mixed results.

FInally, for those interested, the private museum Nihon no hanga has recently produced and published a catalog featuring the work of Settai Komura: Nostalgia and Modernity: The Styles of Komura Settai and Kawanishi Hide (64 pp, pb, full colour, c. 50 illustrations, spring 2012).

• • •

First spotted at Martin Klash. Thanks to P-E Fronning (Martin Klash), Fosco Lucarelli (Socks Studio) and John Resig (Ukiyo-e Search) for helping me identifying this print.

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