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5 Artists Every Japanese Woodblock Print Collector Should Know

What influences and inspires greatness? Depending on the modality, it can be genetic, environmental, scientific, and perhaps social. When speaking of the five Japanese woodblock artists capturing significant interest from today’s collectors, many appear to share a few key commonalities. These artists are Haruyo Morita, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Ohara Koson.

In comparing them, their artistic abilities were identified at a young age, and in most cases, encouraged. They studied with master artists of varying practices early in life. Several of them changed their names during their lifetime, as a means of showing respect for their teachers or indicating their evolution as an artist. Several of the ukiyo-e artists who created prints in the 19th and early 20th centuries also designed illustrations reflective of two conflicts (the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars).

Although the influence from conflict of war is a departure from the origins of the ukiyo-e style of art, which largely depicted scenes of kabuki performances, actors, natural vistas, and women, it is representative of ukiyo-e artistry as a reflection of life and culture of Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868).

Let’s take a closer look at these five popular artists.

Geisha with Warrior Holding Samurai Sword, Serigraph. Sold for $275. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Geisha with Warrior Holding Samurai Sword, Serigraph, by artist Haruyo Morita. Sold for $275. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Haruyo Morita is the “youngster” of the group. Born in 1945 she is said to bring a “contemporary approach to traditional ukiyo-e woodblock art.” A student of Master Husuki, she received her first award for artwork at the age of 17. Her professional experience included working as a kimino painter and designer, in addition to being a creator of woodblock prints. Currently residing in Korora, Australia, her work is available in various forms including prints, jigsaw puzzles and calendars.

 

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, 1820s. Sold for $800. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, by artist Katsushika Hokusai. Recut Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $800. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is said to have began his artistic endeavors at the age of six. By the time he turned 12, his father sent him to work in a bookshop and serve as an apprentice to a wood carver. This piqued an interest that evolved into many artistic forms during his lifetime. By the age of 18, he was studying under master ukiyo-e artist Katsukawa Shunshō, and by the time he was 19, his first prints were published. His earliest work was a series of prints featuring kabuki actors. He published these works under the name Shunshō. This was the first of an estimated 30 names he used during his professional career. Having knowledge of the various names he used, and the time periods, can be very helpful when authenticating and acquiring prints by Hokusai.

Hokusai’s work is also cited as an influence for artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, and Claude Monet, among others. It is said that Monet was introduced to Hokusai’s work during the Exposition Universelle in 1867. Ukiyo-e prints, including examples by Hokusai were part of the display in the Japan Pavilion.
Quickly becoming a fan of Japanese prints, Monet reportedly had at least 20 prints by Hokusai in his personal collection.

 

Kinryuzan Temple, Asakusa (Lantern at Thunder Gate), 19th century. Sold for $190. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Kinryuzan Temple, Asakusa (Lantern at Thunder Gate), by Utagawa Hiroshige. Recut Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $190. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige was born Andō Tokutarō in 1797 in Edo (now Tokyo), Japan. After becoming an orphan at the age of 13, he began studying with revered artist Utagawa Toyohiro, and at the age of 15, he changed his name to Utagawa Hiroshige. He is best known for his impressive series of landscape woodblock prints. Among his most notable works: “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji,” circa 1831; “The 55 Stations of the Tokaido,” circa 1833-34; “Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kiso Road,” circa 1835; and “One Hundred Views of Edo”, circa 1856. He finished “Views of Edo” just two years prior to his death from cholera. Similar to Hokusai, Hiroshige’s artwork appealed to fellow revered artists, including Van Gogh.

 

Women Sewing, Triptych, by Kitagawa Utamaro, late 18th century. Sold for $280. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Women Sewing, Triptych, by Kitagawa Utamaro. Recut Showa era edition published by Tanseisha. Sold for $280. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Kitagawa Utamaro (1750-circa 1806) is a bit of a mystery, as fewer facts about his life are known. He, too, began studying under a master painter, Toriyama Seiken, at a young age. It’s believed Utamaro’s first professional work, the cover of a kabuki playbook, was published when he was in his early 20s. He is recognized as one of the first ukiyo-e artists to create woodblock prints featuring sensual figures of women, rather than groups, which was the norm. Another note of achievement was his development of a technique that produced more realistic flesh tones on subjects in prints.

 

Cat Watching a Goldfish, 10½ by 15½ inches. Sold for $440. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Cat Watching a Goldfish, 10½ by 15½ inches. Posthumous Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $440. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Ohara Koson was born Ohara Matao in 1877 in Kanazawa, the capital of what is now Japan’s Honshu Island. He too studied under a noted master artist, Suzuki Koson, whose name he adopted as his professional moniker. He also used the names Shoson and Hoson. Professionally he was most recognized for his printmaking work in the kacho-e style. This refers to prints featuring birds and flowers. He also spent many years teaching at the Tokyo School of Fine Art, before his death in 1945. As was the case with many similar Japanese artists, much of Koson’s woodblock prints were exported to the United States and Europe.

The invention and expanded use of photography largely replaced woodblock prints as a means of illustration. However, Japanese woodblock prints and the artist printmakers who introduced the world to some of the characters and experiences of Japanese culture through their art, continue to resonate with collectors and historians on a global level.


Sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art;
Minneapolis Institute of Arts;
www.haryomorita.com.au;
www.katsushikahokusai.org;
www.artelino.com;
www.education.asianart.com;
www.mercury.lcs.mit.edu;
www.rijksmuseum.nl

View this week’s Japanese Woodblock Print auction and register to bid here.


6 Japanese Woodblock Prints with Contemporary Touch

This weekend we are presenting the biggest auction of Japanese woodblock prints to date. Approximately 170 woodblock prints spanning the 19th century to the present will be going up for bids.

Featuring names like Hiroshige and Yoshida, this sale reveals nuanced techniques and traditional Japanese values. Whether capturing the serenity of a temple or a moonlit ocean, these images exemplify both fine art and elegant decoration.

It may come as a surprise, but not all Japanese woodblock prints are created by native Japanese. A few were Western artists who mastered woodblock printing while working there.

A living artist represented in the auction is Daniel Kelly, an American based in Kyoto, Japan. He works primarily in painting and printmaking. His 2015 print titled Red Hook was done in the chine-colle technique, which pulls fine details off the plate.

Daniel Kelly, ‘Red Hook,’ 2015, Japanese woodblock print, chine colle, 36 x 40 inches, edition size of 90. Estimate: $2,000-$2,200

Daniel Kelly, ‘Red Hook,’ 2015, Japanese woodblock print, chine colle, 36 x 40 inches, edition size of 90. Estimate: $2,000-$2,200

Another was Paul Jacoulet (1902-1960), a Parisian artist who spent most of his life in Japan and is recognized for his work in Japanese woodblock printing. Here you’ll see his print of Ebisu, Dieu du Bonheur Personnifie.

Paul Jacoulet, ‘Ebisu, Dieu du Bonheur Personnifie,’ 1952. Estimate: $1,000-$1,400

Paul Jacoulet, ‘Ebisu, Dieu du Bonheur Personnifie,’ 1952. Estimate: $1,000-$1,400

Yet another contemporary artist whose work is featured in the auction is Katsunori Hamanishi. His Two Poems mezzotint print is accented in gold leaf.

Katsunori Hamanishi (b. 1949), ‘Two Poems,’ 2015, mezzotint and gold leaf, edition size 70. Estimate: $1,100-$1,200

Katsunori Hamanishi (b. 1949), ‘Two Poems,’ 2015, mezzotint and gold leaf, edition size 70. Estimate: $1,100-$1,200

Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) was a Japanese sosaku hanga artist. He was one of the first Japanese printmakers to win at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1951. His 1967 woodblock print titled Onri An Kyoto D, 1967, is one of the low-key highlights in the sale.

Kiyoshi Saito, ‘Onri An Kyoto D,’ 1967, edition size 100. Estimate: $1,000-$1,100

Kiyoshi Saito, ‘Onri An Kyoto D,’ 1967, edition size 100. Estimate: $1,000-$1,100

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist who specialized in bijin-ga print designs of beautiful women. In addition to producing a prolific number of prints, he was also a writer. His woodblock prints, Sumida River, is featured in the auction.

Keisai Eisen, ‘Sumida River,’ ‘Famous Views of Edo and Beauties Compared,’ 1830s. Estimate: $1,300-$1,500

Keisai Eisen, ‘Sumida River,’ ‘Famous Views of Edo and Beauties Compared,’ 1830s. Estimate: $1,300-$1,500

Finally, a famous triptych by Utagawa Kuniyoshi recalls the legend of Shuten-doji and Minamoto no Yorimitsu. Shuten-doji was a dreaded ogre who preyed upon Kyoto, kidnapping young women and eating all men who ventured into his realm. The print depicts how the emperor’s greatest warrior prevailed over the oni after a great battle.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, ‘Minamoto no Yorimitsu and Shuten-doji,’ triptych, 19th century. Estimate: $4,000-$6,000

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, ‘Minamoto no Yorimitsu and Shuten-doji,’ triptych, 19th century. Estimate: $4,000-$6,000

View the fully illustrated catalog of Japanese woodblock prints and register to bid.

7 Woodblock Prints Where the Beauty of Japan Shines Through

The landscapes, traditions and customs of 19th and 20th century Japan are depicted in this stunning collection of Japanese woodblock prints. Whether capturing the serenity of a temple or a moonlit seashore, these images exemplify both fine art and elegant decoration. With many renowned Japanese artists featured in this auction, the true beauty of Japanese landscape and culture shine through, most especially in these 7 prints below:

‘Beauties by River before Cherry Blossoms’ by Kitigawa Utamaro

Kitigawa Utamaro (1753-1806) was one of the most highly regarded practitioners of the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock prints, especially for his portraits of beautiful women, or bijin-ga.

Kitigawa Utamaro, ‘Beauties by River before Cherry Blossoms,’ 1800, Oban design, 10 x 15.5 inches. Estimate: $1,500-$2,000

Kitigawa Utamaro, ‘Beauties by River before Cherry Blossoms,’ 1800, Oban design, 10 x 15.5 inches. Estimate: $1,500-$2,000

 

‘Ogiya Yugiri, Fujiya Izaemon’ by Kitigawa Utamaro

Another highly regarded woodblock print by Kitigawa Utamaro titled Yugiri of the Ogiya and Fujiya Izaemon (Ogiya Yugiri, Fujiya Izaemon) comes from his series ‘The True Feelings Compared.’

Kitigawa Utamaro, ‘ Yugiri of the Ogiya and Fujiya Izaemon (Ogiya Yugiri, Fujiya Izaemon),’ 1798-1800, 9.5 x 14.75 inches. Estimate: $3,500-$4,000

Kitigawa Utamaro, ‘ Yugiri of the Ogiya and Fujiya Izaemon (Ogiya Yugiri, Fujiya Izaemon),’ 1798-1800, 9.5 x 14.75 inches. Estimate: $3,500-$4,000

 

‘Rain’ by Torii Kotondo

Also known for depicting beautiful women – only two centuries later – was Torii Kotondo (1900-1976). He was specially trained in the tradition of kabuki actor portraits, and translated this training into his famous portraits of women.

Torii Kotondo, ‘Rain,’ 1930, 11.75 x 18 inches, published by Sakai and Kawaguchi with first edition seal, numbered 104/200, embossed title in bottom margin. Estimate: $6,000-$8,000

Torii Kotondo, ‘Rain,’ 1930, 11.75 x 18 inches, published by Sakai and Kawaguchi with first edition seal, numbered 104/200, embossed title in bottom margin. Estimate: $6,000-$8,000

 

‘Snow at Pond’s Edge’ by Hasui Kawase

Another leading artist in the auction is Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) who became a prominent figure in the shin-hanga (“new prints”) movement of the early 20th century. This movement was influenced by European Impressionism and its imagery focused on landscapes, women, and nature.

Hasui Kawase, ‘Snow at Pond’s Edge,’ 1920, published by Watanabe from the series Mitsubishi Villa at Fukugawa, pre-earthquake edition. Estimate: $5,000-$6,500

Hasui Kawase, ‘Snow at Pond’s Edge,’ 1920, published by Watanabe from the series Mitsubishi Villa at Fukugawa, pre-earthquake edition. Estimate: $5,000-$6,500

 

‘Evening Snow at Ishonomaki’ by Kawase Hasui

One of the most prominent print designers of the shin-hanga movement was Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), whose series “Collected Views of Japan” is represented in the auction.

Kawase Hasui, ‘Evening Snow at Ishonomaki (Ishinomaki no bosetsu),’ 1935, Oban design 10 x 15.5 inches. Estimate: $2,800-$3,200

Kawase Hasui, ‘Evening Snow at Ishonomaki (Ishinomaki no bosetsu),’ 1935, Oban design 10 x 15.5 inches. Estimate: $2,800-$3,200

 

‘Cherry Blossoms’ by Toshi Yoshida

Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995) was a Japanese printmaking artist associated with the sosaku-hanga movement, the avant-garde movement of the 1950s-1970s. His woodblock print titled Cherry Blossoms may present an affordable approach to this field of art collecting.

Toshi Yoshida, ‘Cherry Blossoms,’ Oban. Estimate: $150-$200

Toshi Yoshida, ‘Cherry Blossoms,’ Oban. Estimate: $150-$200

 

‘Pagoda in Sunset’ by Ido Masao

Ido Masao is a contemporary Japanese printmaker known for his powerful images of Japanese subjects, including gardens, views of landmarks, theater, and Japanese villages. In this Pagoda in Sunset print from 1980, Masao highlights the beauty of a typical Japanese scene.

Ido Masao, 'Pagoda in Sunset,' 1980. Estimate: $150-$200

Ido Masao, ‘Pagoda in Sunset,’ 1980. Estimate: $150-$200

Don’t miss out on this stunning selection – view the fully illustrated catalog and bid on LiveAuctioneers.

Intro to Collecting Japanese Woodblock Prints

An overview of beginning your Japanese Woodblock print collection and a preview of the upcoming Jasper52 auction on Saturday, September 10 at 4:00pm ET. Written by Dieuwke Eijer.

The word ‘collecting’ is often associated with ‘lots of money.’ As that may be correct in specific categories of collectables, some of the traditional collecting fields are offering us surprising opportunities. Luckily, within the Japanese woodblock prints we can find an amazing variety of high quality prints in good condition that do not break the bank, along with the blockbuster prints, such as the “Great Wave” by Hokusai.

Japanese woodblock prints can be divided into four broad categories:

  • Ukiyoe – traditional woodblock prints until roughly 1900
  • Shin-hanga – created from the late Meiji era until World War II, showing a mixture of traditional Japanese and modern western elements
  • Sosaku-hanga – avant-garde movement of the 1950s-1970s
  • Works by contemporary artists

Each category produced remarkable artists and subjects, to satisfy each possible angle of collecting prints. You can collect broadly, picking one print by each artist or school, from the beginning of ukiyoe until today. But there are also print collections narrowly focused on certain elements, such as on clocks, or firemen and their equipment, collections of works by Kawase Hasui and his peers (example below), or of complete series by a single ukiyoe artist – such as the B.W. Robinson collection of Kuniyoshi prints.

Kawase Hasui, Yakushi Temple, Nara, 1951. Est. $150-$200. Image from Jasper52

Kawase Hasui, Yakushi Temple, Nara, 1951. Est. $150-$200. Image from Jasper52

The group of prints offered in the September 10th Jasper52 auction, represents a broad array of artists from the ukiyoe school to the sosaku-hanga movement. Among the ukiyoe school prints, you will find works by Hiroshige from a variety of his series. Each of them is a very good impression and in remarkable color condition, giving us insight in some aspects of life in the city of Edo or along the road. The inside of an inn in Ishibe, a samurai train crossing the Oi River near Shimada, or people enjoying tea, a pipe and something to nosh at a tea stall near the Sanno Shrine.

Hiroshige Print - Jasper52

Utagawa Hiroshige, The Reservoir and the Sanno Shrine, 1854. Est $150-$200

In the late 19th century, Westerners started to travel to Japan, and the prints from that period reflect modern art concepts that led to the shin-hanga movement in the 20th century. Simultaneously, some Japanese artists chose to stick to traditional Japanese themes and turned their focus to nature. Examples of both can be found in this catalog. Eight works by the great observer of birds Ohara Koson are complemented by bird prints by some of his contemporaries, representing the artist group that turned to nature. On the other hand, great atmospheric evening views along the Sumida River in Tokyo by Kobayashi Kiyochika show us western influences. A canal with houses lined up in perspective; the silhouette of a man in western suit and hat among people dressed in kimono.

Kobayahshi Kiyochika Jasper52

Kobayashi Kiyochika, Night Scene at Sumida River, 1910’s. Est $200-$300

Shin-hanga artist Yoshida Hiroshi continued the landscape tradition of his great predecessors Hokusai and Hiroshige. At the occasion of the publication of his catalogue raisonné in 1987, a few of his masterworks were re-printed from the original blocks. Printed with the same care that Yoshida himself would have exercised, would he have lived, these posthumous works in amazing condition are affordable.

Hiroshi Yoshida, Spring in a Hot Spring. Originally published in 1927, this is a print from 1986. Est $200-$250

Hiroshi Yoshida, Spring in a Hot Spring. Originally published in 1927, this is a print from 1986. Est $200-$250

The prints are closed off by a few representatives of the sosaku-hanga movement and contemporary artists. Their names may be lesser known among the western collectors, but the quality of materials and degree of perfection are continued and can make the starting point of a wonderful collection.  

 


Dieuwke EijerDieuwke Eijer has over 20 years experience in Japanese traditional art. Before relocating to NYC, she led the Asian Art department at one of Europe’s oldest auction houses. She currently works with international buyers, auction houses, and gallerists to develop their collections, and is a member of the Japanese Society of Arts (Netherlands), the Japanese Art Society of America, and the International Netsuke Society.