December 22, 2012

“Snow at Zojoji temple” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, appr. 36cm x 47cm, 1953 © Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture

Tokyo Digital Museum: “’oji no yuki (Snow at Zojoji temple)” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, appr. 36cm x 47cm, 1953. Information from Christie’s. Large format retrieved through Ukiyo-e Search. © Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture. Click for a larger view.

All the information pertaining to the four artworks presented here comes from at least two official sources, mostly The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACAM) and Christie’s. Hasui was not the only artist to depict the Zojoji Temple, sometimes spelled “Zozoji” (see Wikipedia, official website).

Large format reproductions were all found thanks to the powerful search tool setup by John Resig (a computer programmer and avid enthusiast of Japanese woodblock prints): Ukiyo-e Search. Resig’s tool allows anyone to perform search across multiple online collections such as Artelino, the Tokyo Digital Museum, the Japanese Art Open Database (by Dr. Ross F. Walker) and many more. It’s easy to use and currently provides access to nearly 200,000 reproductions. It can also perform reverse search where one can identify a print by uploading an image. Easy comparison between different reproductions of the same print is also possible.

• • •

The print depicted above (from 1953) was commissioned by the Japanese government. Hasui’s seal is visible in the lower right corner. Hasui used four different seals. They’re all identified at Hanga.com: “Seals & Signatures”. Japanese Gallery provides some explanations about the commissioned work:

In 1953, Hasui was commissioned by the Japanese government to create a print entitled “Snow at Zojoji Temple”, which was then designated as an Intangible Cultural Treasure. In 1956, the government, in recognition of his invaluable contribution to the woodblock print medium, designated Hasui a Living National Treasure.

Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) was a prominent printmaker in the shin-hanga movement who worked closely (but not exclusively) with the famous publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe. From The British Museum:

In 1907 he began studying Western-style art, especially landscape, at the Hakuba-kai (White Horse Society) and took guidance from Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939); subsequently in 1910 he became a pupil of Kaburaki Kiyokata who gave him the art name Hasui, though the greatest influence on his style and palette was the ‘Nihonga’ painter Imamura Shiko (1880-1916). At this time he earned his living through designing ‘sashi-e’, magazine illustrations, posters and patterns for sashes. Through Kiyokata he became known to Watanabe Shozaburo, who published his first landscape prints in 1918-19. These in turn were first inspired by ‘Eight Views of Omi’ by his fellow-pupil Shinsui, which had aroused Hasui’s interest in single-sheet prints. From then on Hasui worked very extensively as a designer of landscape prints for Watanabe, and from almost the beginning inspired the carvers and printers to produce newer and subtler efforts, especially in the expression of snow. (read more)

In his book Beyond the Great Wave: The Japanese Landscape Print, 1727-1960 (Peter Lang, 2010) James King explains the current state of knowledge pertaining to Japanese landscape prints:

Scolarship in both Japanese and English on Japanese landscape prints tends to concentrate on Hokusai and Hiroshige, although there has been some important pioneering work on, for instance, Kiyochika and Hasui. Much of this writing is outstanding, but, as a result of what have been in the main ―a narrow approach― the tradition still exists in a scholarly vacuum. In the case of the landscape print, for instance, the Japanese tradition in painting must be considered. Similarly, the Japanese print is usually divided into three distinct areas of study (Ukiyo-e, shin-hanga, and sôsaku-hanga, whereas, because there are a great many interconnections and interdependencies, this book traverses all three. (p. 1)

A couple of page later, King provides a good explanation about the difference between the shin-hanga and the sôsaku-hanga movements:

(…) sôsaku-hanga (“creative prints”) [is] a movement that began a decade earlier than shin-hanga, in about 1904; in many ways, it constituted a rebellion against Ukiyo-e. The artists wanted to recreate a “true” Japan in their work, but they rejected the kind of sensibility expressed in shi-hanga. They sought, in various ways, to create something new rather than to recast a Ukiyo-e tradition they considered dated and moribund.

In essence, shin-hanga arists tried to find a Japanese spirit in landscape, whereas sôsaku-hanga artists tried to find a Japanese spirit in the artist’s response to landscape. The former is about the poetry of place, the latter about the place of the poet in landscape. The great irony is that both schools used Western-based aesthetics to uncover their representation of Japan as “home”. (p. 12)

The following image is probably the earliest known print produced by Hasui depicting the Zojoji Temple in a snow setting. It is titled “Zojoji in Snow” and dated from 1922 (image is 14 5/8 x 9 5/8 in.). It is part of the second Souvenirs of Travel (Tabi miyage dai ni shu) series produced between 1921 and 1922 (see the official entry at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the thirty prints composing this series are gathered at Hanga.com: “Souvenirs of Travels, 2nd series”). Hasui’s seal is visible in the lower right corner: it’s the seal he used prior to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The Japanese Art Open Database (JAODB) provides this description:

One of the rarest and finest of all pre-earthquake prints. Narazki remarks: This print was produced in a limited edition of 100. A man in western-style clothing walks in a blizzard toward the temple, the start of western dress in Hasui’s prints.

“Zojoji in Snow” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 5/8 x 9 5/8 in., 1922. Part of the  second Souvenirs of Travel (Tabi miyage dai ni shu) series. Image retrieved from The Japanese Art Open Database. Click for a larger view.
“Zojoji in Snow” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 5/8 x 9 5/8 in., 1922. Part of the second Souvenirs of Travel (Tabi miyage dai ni shu) series. Image retrieved from The Japanese Art Open Database. Click for a larger view.

Next is a print from 1925: “Shiba (No) Zojo-ji” (14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.). See the entry for it at the LACMA, at the Williams College Museum of Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The JAODB provides a way to compare four different copies of the same print: “Comparing Item Details for Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) “Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba”. This print belongs to the Twenty Scenes of Tokyo series created between 1925 and 1930 (see again Hanga.com for all the prints in the series: “Twenty Scenes of Tokyo”). Hasui’s seal is visible in the lower left corner.

In a short biography of Hasui he wrote for his website Viewing Japanese Prints, John Forillo explains the special status of this print, probably one of Hasui’s most popular:

First issued in 1925, it was reprinted many times until, it is said, more than 3,000 impressions were taken from the original woodblocks. The impression reproduced here shows in the right margin the seal Watanabe used from approximately 1931-1941 (Hanken shoyû fukyo mosha Watanabe Shôzaburô, meaning “Copyright ownership, reproduction not allowed without permission, Watanabe Shôzaburô”). The left margin reads Shiba Zôjôji (“Zôjô Temple, Shiba”) and Taishô jûyo nen saku (“Made in the fourteenth year of Taishô”). It depicts one of the Zôjô temples in Shiba Park, Tokyo during a snowfall. The mausoleums of the Tokugawa family were part of the temples at Zôjôji.

“Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba” (“Shiba (No) Zojo-ji”) by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., 1925. Part of the Twenty Scenes of Tokyo series. Image retrieved from The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. Click for a larger view.
“Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba” (“Shiba (No) Zojo-ji”) by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., 1925. Part of the Twenty Scenes of Tokyo series. Image retrieved from The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. Click for a larger view.
“Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba” (detail) by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., 1925.
“Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba” (detail) by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 14 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., 1925.

The following night scene was not publish by Watanabe but instead by Sakai and Kawaguchi. It’s titled “(Yuki no Zojoji) Zojoji in Snow” and was created in 1929 (image is 9 7/8 x 14 5/8 in.). Hasui’s seal is visible in the lower right corner. See information at the LACMA. More comments from the JAODB:

Beautiful temple scene with bijin [beautiful women] under umbrella surrounded by drifting snowfall […] One of 16 Hasui images published during 1929 and 1930 by Kawaguchi & Sakai (and as such, bears no Watanabe seals).

The workmanship in both carving and printing is simply superb; very nice gradation of colors (bokashi) virtually throughout the print with various shadings of grays, tans, reds, and very soft blues; and nicely done “gauffrage” (“blind-printing” or embossing) to many of the falling snowflakes which give the print real “depth.”

“(Yuki no Zojoji) Zojoji in Snow” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 9 7/8 x 14 5/8 in., 1929. Image retrieved from The Japanese Art Open Database. Click for a larger view.
“(Yuki no Zojoji) Zojoji in Snow” by Kawase Hasui, woodcut print, 9 7/8 x 14 5/8 in., 1929. Image retrieved from The Japanese Art Open Database. Click for a larger view.
“(Yuki no Zojoji) Zojoji in Snow” (detail) by Kawase Hasui, 1929.
“(Yuki no Zojoji) Zojoji in Snow” (detail) by Kawase Hasui, 1929.

For more information about the shin-hang mouvement in general and the art of Kawase Hasui in particular, consider the following links:

  • Hanga Gallery has a biography as well as very elaborated “list of prints” by Hasui (728 prints published by Watanabe are identified and that’s only a part of the whole list). The reproductions hosted on this website are presented in a small or medium format, but it remains a very useful tool to do research about a particular print or a specific series.

  • Ukiyo-e Gallery has 455 items (mostly prints) attributed to Hasui. The size of the reproductions varies from small to very large and they all come with information (title, date of production, etc.).

  • Shogun Gallery has 66 medium to large format reproductions of prints by Hasui, along with proper identification.

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