This article is dedicated to the memory of Michiko Kitamaura (1908-2003), who passed away during its writing. Born during what was still then Meiji-era Japan, she witnessed firsthand many profound changes that occurred in her Japanese homeland during her lifetime. I first met her in 1993 and will always remember her fondly as being the most “genki” (vibrant and energetic) Japanese woman I have ever known.

Michiko Kitamura, Osaka Japan (1908-2003)

The Sketchbooks of KAWASE Hasui

“The Trees at Ichinokura” (1928)

The Early Hasui/Watanabe Connection

During his lifetime, Hasui was known to have traveled widely throughout Japan, in search of that next “perfect image.” And, what a life it must have been...... getting paid (at least indirectly) to travel to dozens of beautiful locations, and while there, doing what he apparently so loved to do.

Hasui’s lifelong association with the Tokyo publisher Watanabe Shozaburo (1883-1962) began two years after an 1916 exhibition of works from a group of students of the very well known ukiyo-e artist, Kaburagi Kiyokata (1878-1983). At this earlier 1916 exhibition, Watanabe was so impressed with a “bijin-ga” portrait done by Ito Shinsui (1898-1972) that he soon arranged a meeting with Shinsui and their lifelong association of print production was begun.

It was then only two years later (following a similar art exhibition in 1918) that Hasui, who himself was also a student among Kiyokata’s large circle of talented artists, came this time to seek out a meeting with publisher Watanabe. Watanabe was apparently impressed with the early drawings or other examples which Hasui must have presented, as very shortly thereafter woodblock landscapes by Hasui began to soon appear in Watanabe’s Shop. Hasui was to quickly become Watanabe’s most prolific artist, evidenced by the production of an amazingly 96 prints during the initial 5 year period (1918 to 1923) which preceded the devastating Kanto Earthquake which leveled Watanabe’s Print Shop.

KAWASE, Hasui and family at their home in Magone (ca1930's) --- Hasui with Shinsui ITO (ca1930's)

Unlike a few of the other artists who collaborated only briefly with Watanabe (both Yoshida and Goyo soon broke away to produce their own works privately), Hasui’s association with Watanabe was to last his entire lifetime, resulting in an amazing output of at least 550 lifetime prints. Hasui’s artistic efforts were ceaseless, with the printing of his final work, "Konjikido in Snow, Hiraizumi," (1957) actually completed as a multi-color woodblock following his death. Forty-nine days after the 1957 death of Hasui (a special day according to the Buddhist religion), a special religious ceremony was held. On this occasion, copies of his final work, "Konjikido in Snow,” were presented to each of Hasui’s mourners.

Other Artists in the Kiyokata/Watanabe Circle

It’s interesting to further note the deep influence which Hasui’s “sensei” (teacher) Kaburagi Kiyokata had upon the bridging the artistic talent of the earlier 1800’s “ukiyo-e” period into the early 1900’s “shin-hanga” period. Among the Kiyokata-taught students were many of the well known names we today associate with “shin-hanga” woodblocks, including: Ito Shinsui (1898-1972), Kasamatsu Shiro (1898-1991), Natori Shunsan (1886-1960), Ito Takahashi (1894-1982), and again, Kawase Hasui (1883-1957).

Viewing The Sketchbooks

Through the viewing of various artist's sketches left to us by Hasui, we are able to better see how some of Hasui’s artistic visions have come to life. Some of his sketches seem rather hastily made, while others seem to be drawn with a much “sharper” pencil and appear to show much more detail.

Perhaps most interesting are some of the “changes” which take place between the “original sketch” and the eventual “final design.” In the examples which follow below, we will examine side-by-side what are the actual "pencil sketches" made by Hasui in his lifetime set next to their corrresponding full-color woodblocks.

The comparisons are at times both interesting and thought provoking.

A Few Minor Changes....

In some cases, clearly some “cropping” of Hasui’s original sketch has taken place, as can be seen below in the original 1957 sketch of “Konjikido in Snow, Hiraizumi,” where the foreground area of the original sketch (left) has been “lined-out” (with a later-added fine pencil line) of the final “area” of the print. As a result of this elimination of the lower area of the sketch (the right area remained), the viewer’s eye is then moved to a closer focus on the stairs and temple itself. Then to the right, we've added a slightly enlarged image of this "cropped" area of the pencil sketch.

“Konjikido in Snow, Hiraizumi” (1957) --- with Close-up of Final Area (right)

In other prints, the horizontal to vertical dimensions of the sketch are altered somewhat, seemingly “forcing” the image to fit within the “standard format size” of a typical “oban-sized" Japanese print of about 9 ¼ x 14 inches, which is an “eye-pleasing” 1 to 1.5 ratio. This can be clearly seen in the 1924 sketch of “Crescent Moon at Matsue, Shimane” where the more “squarish” original sketch is later forced to become more “oban” in shape. Here too, we can note how the distant waterline has been raised within the image, allowing more room for the eye-pleasing reflection to be seen in the water's area.

“Crescent Moon at Matsue, Shimane” (1924)

As an added aside, this 1924 “Matsue, Shimane” is further of interest to collectors in that it was subsequently printed in THREE slightly different versions, using strikingly different colors—-which also required the addition of an “extra couple” of woodblocks to add the “clouds” seen in both the “Cloudy Day” and “Hazy Moon” versions seen below.

Sketch, “Cloudy Day” “Crescent Moon” “Hazy Moon” (1924)

In some cases, we can even see “hand-written notations” (in Japanese “kanji”) within areas of the print, along with faint, lightly drawn pencil lines showing specific areas or details to which these notations apply. These “kanji notations” are clearly seen in lower areas of the 1931 sketch of "Hiejin Shrine in Snow" ("Hiejinja no Yuki") below.

"Hiejin Shrine in Snow" ("Hiejinja no Yuki") 1931

Also interesting to note in the “sketch-to-print metamorphosis” change which has taken place in the above "Hiejin Shrine in Snow" print, where one can clearly see where the original more distant (and hence, smaller) placement of the faintly drawn “single woman with umbrella” has been moved forward within the image and artistically changed to become “two women and two umbrellas.” Additionally, the “angle” of the temple’s pathway has been moved leftward, to intersect with the bottom/center of the print’s image and thusly bringing it more central into the viewer’s area.

A Dramatic Change....

In a case of at least one sketch/print set, a remarkable change has taken place—the complete transposition of the “right-facing” sketched image which apparently was later decided to be more pleasing with the total reversal of the final colored woodblock image where the image has become “left-facing.” Nowadays we might attribute such a transposition to the accidental reversal of a photograph’s negative at the time of printing—but likely in the case of Hasui’s 1930 "Omori Beach" image, one must assume that Hasui’s sketch is “visually correct.” (It further causes one to wonder how the residents of “Omori Beach” must feel when viewing a print of their location “printed backwards.”)

"Omori Beach" ("Omori Nakahara") 1930

Little Change Required....

In the case of some sketches, it seems that Hasui (or perhaps publisher Watanabe) were fairly pleased with the “original design,” and therefore seemingly little was changed between the original sketch and the final print design. As an example, not much change between “sketch-to-print” can be seen in Hasui’s 1933 print “Harbor at Night, Otaru" ("Otaru no Hatoba") as shown below. About the only change appears to the lowering of the dock to allow for the addition of more sky area.

“Harbor at Night, Otaru" ("Otaru no Hatoba") 1930

Similarly, not much change is seen in Hasui’s 1931 print, "Ikegami Honmonji Temple" ("Ikegami Honmon-Ji"), when compared to his original design sketch. The only minor changes which are readily apparent are the minor addition of a stone bridge railing at the print’s right edge, and that the distant gate has been “moved” ever so slightly forward. Apparently it was also decided that the addition of a "snow-traveled pathway" would add visual interest and greater depth to the final print.

"Ikegami Honmonji Temple" ("Ikegami Honmon-Ji") 1931

Two Final Examples....

Two slightly different “non-sketch” examples will conclude this article. The first is an apparent “trial print” or perhaps “smaller format” version of the popular 1950 print, "Autumn at Shiobara, Tengu Rock" ("Shiobara no Aki, Tenguiwa no Shita"). Here, comparing this black and white version (described simply as “black baren") with the color print, we note that several of the final “oban-sized” print’s details are placed slightly differently within the full color version. Again, it’s interesting to note how slight changes of placement or position are made in the final design.

"Autumn at Shiobara, Tengu Rock" ("Shiobara no Aki, Tenguiwa no Shita") 1950

In our final example, we have not a sketch, but rather, an actual black and white photograph of the scene of Hasui’s popular 1949 print, "Autumn at Saruiwa, Shiobara" ("Shiohara Saruiwa"), which is also known by the title "Monkey Rock." In this case, although we have no pencil sketch by which to directly judge the “accuracy” of the final print, it seems likely that Hasui’s actual sketch must have incorporated several design changes which seemingly therefore make this “Monkey Rock” scene more dramatic. Not only has the road’s curvature and railing apparently been changed to make it look “older,” but also the curvature of the rock has apparently been accentuated to make it appear more prominent. Even the trees on the upper edge of the “Monkey” have been modified to further accentuate the rock itself. Likely no one would argue, however—the outcome is certainly pleasing.

"Autumn at Saruiwa, Shiobara" or "Monkey Rock” ( “Shiohara Saruiwa") 1949

A Few Concluding Comments

Without doubt, being able to view several of the "preparatory sketches" made at various locations by Hasui affords to the viewer some insights into the development of an original black and white pencil sketch into an eventual full-color woodblock print. The study of these various black and white sketches thusly gives us a bit of a “window” through which we can better view the artistic process of print development. And, if we are lucky enough ourselves to actually hold one of these same color woodblocks in our own personal collections, then the insights gained and comparisons made from viewing the earlier sketch can be even more meaningful.

Literature sources used in preparation of this article include:

"Kawase Hasui -- The Otaku/Yamanashi Exhibition" Tokyo, 1990

“The New Wave – Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection,” Amy Reigle Stephens, Bamboo Publishing, London, 1993, ISBN 1-870076-19-2

"Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, 1900-1975," Helen Merritt & Nanako Yamada, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1992, ISBN 0-8248-1732X

(c) Thomas Crossland and Dr. Andreas Grund, January 2003

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