In Pursuit of Beauty: An Introduction to the new Hasui Collection

January 29, 2019 5 min read

In Pursuit of Beauty: An Introduction to the new Hasui Collection

Ten copies of Benten Pond, Shiba (1929) - seen above - are available as part of the new Hasui collection.

Our latest collection has been a labor of love. This Saturday, we’ll be launching a 16 print series of Kawase Hasui’s finest works, to celebrate the life of one of the greatest, and without doubt most-loved Ukiyo-e artists.

So, why did we choose Hasui as the first collection of the new year?

Throughout December, I considered how we might start 2019 in an inspired way. I reflected on the community we’re building, and our mission of preserving, celebrating and sharing the art of Japan’s great masters. I knew we needed something to reaffirm this mission for the new year and express it in style.

I also read and refreshed my knowledge of the Shin Hanga (“New Prints”) movement, which had its heyday between 1910 and 1960, as well as it’s most-loved exponent and leading light, Kawase Hasui.


My reference guides for Hasui's life and work.

By the early 20th century, Ukiyo-e printmaking had almost entirely died out. After the restoration of the Meiji emperor in 1868, Japan’s isolationist period came to an end, and the Japanese were exposed to outside influences and Western cultural advancements. In light of this, Japan was undergoing a period of rapid industrialization and Westernization, as the emperor and many Japanese sought to modernize Japan by zealously importing foreign ways and means.

In the art world, this meant the decline of traditional Ukiyo-e printmaking in favor of Western watercolor painting, lithographs, photographs and etchings. By 1900, there was almost nothing of the tradition left.

However, a young entrepreneur called Watanabe Shozaburo had a different vision of the future; one in which the timeless beauty of Japan and its Ukiyo-e heritage would be preserved and celebrated. Between 1915 and 1920, he discovered and recruited a stable of promising masters-in-the-making, including Hiroshi Yoshida, Ito Shinsui and Kawase Hasui. Through directing and publishing these artists to realize his vision of “new prints”, Japan’s printmaking heritage would live on in the Shin Hanga movement.

At Rising Sun Prints, we feel a kindred spirit with Shozaburo, as we publish each print collection and share the joy of Japan’s timeless beauty with you!

 

Enter Kawase Hasui - Poet of Place

Hasui was discovered by Shozaburo at an art fair in Tokyo and would go on to produce prints for Shozaburo until his dying day (quite literally).

In essence, Hasui was a “poet of place”. He would go on to produce over 600 prints, almost all landscapes, and in a wholly unified, instantly recognizable style.

Hasui has often been compared to Hiroshige, for both artists loved to depict their extensive travels throughout Japan, with its incredible natural beauty. He was able to create dreamlike images of Japan - untouched by the uglier forms of modernization and industrialization.



I was inspired by Hasui’s ethos. We share his values of tradition, discovery (we discover new art and stories - he traveled endlessly) and beauty. This was the spirit in which I wanted Rising Sun Prints to start in 2019. Just as collectors had wanted to own their own memento of timeless Japan in 1919, I believe many in our community of Japanese art lovers share the same desire 100 years later.

 

The Challenge

Having decided to launch our first Hasui collection, I was faced with a challenge.
How to curate a collection worthy of Hasui, that captures the spirit and essence of his life’s work, without being trite and superficial?

There are no rules for such a task, But values can serve as a compass. With that in mind, I sought out the commonality between our values and the recurring themes in Hasui’s work.

 

A Shared Goal: Capturing Japan’s timeless beauty

Kamino Bridge, Fukagawa - by Kawase Hasui

Ten copies of Kamino Bridge at Fukagawa (1920) will be available as part of our new collection.

Hasui succeeds in capturing Japan's timeless beauty by employing a number of recurring techniques in his art:

1. Choosing locations and scenes that aren't instantly recognizable. Previous masters such as Hokusai and Hiroshige had typically made Meisho or "famous places" the subject of their prints. However, Hasui consistently chose smaller and lesser-known locales for his landscapes; as such he was able to represent the essence of Japan in general, rather than a specific landmark or famous view.

2. Favouring traditional architecture over newer buildings. When architecture is present, Hasui usually depicts traditional or non-descript housing, feudal castles and traditional temples or shrines. Modern, industrial buildings and objects very rarely make their way into his prints.

3. Isolated figures living traditional lives. Most people in Hasui's prints wear traditional dress and are seen undertaking traditional activities such as travelling, walking, fishing or bathing.

 

    The Ethos of Shin Hanga and Rising Sun Prints - Accessibility

    Hasui’s prints would undergo adjustments to make them more commercially successful. This was Shozaburo’s strength and contribution to the success of the movement.

    As Hasui himself once said:

    “I draw the original thinking of the final product. There are occasions when the final prints do not measure up to original expectations. There are also happy occasions when the prints turn out to be superior to original paintings because they are prints.”

    Prints such as the one below were made more colorful, with saturated hues and optimistic, radiant light. Hasui’s original was a misty, dull scene, with more of a sense of anxious trepidation and an unknown future around the corner.

    In the spirit of accessibility, I felt we should include Toro, Kishu (below) as a statement. Beauty like this justifies itself.


    Toro - Kishu by Kawase Hasui
    Ten copies of Toro, Kishu (1943) will be available as part of new Hasui collection.

    Our Passion for Discovery - Hasui's Passion for Travel


    We try to help our community members discover lesser-known works and hidden gems from the oeuvres of the great artists. In this vein, we picked out a few night scenes that one is less likely to stumble across without an in-depth search through Hasui’s catalog.

    Starlit night at Miyajima by Kawase Hasui

    Starlit Night at Miyajima (1928) - available now

     

    Preserving Japanese History and Culture - A Noble Aim

    Of course, we value Japanese history and culture, as did Hasui. He preferred a traditional kimono to a Western suit and an X to Y. The exemplary prints shown below valorize the heritage of feudal Japan, outside of the rapid industrialization that was occurring throughout Japan at the time of Hasui’s sketch and printmaking.

    Snow at Zojoji Temple by Kawase Hasui

    Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba (1925)


    Understanding the Power of Story

    We love story, whether that’s the tales, myths or legends behind Ukiyo-e prints and series, or the life and times of the artists.

    These prints capture a sense of story in their use of lone figures, clearly mid-way through their journey. Where have they been? Where are they going and to what end? In his typically enigmatic style, Hasui leaves it to our imagination…


     

    Komagata River Bank (1919)

     

    Appreciation - Of Art and Life

    A deep sense of appreciation runs through much of Hasui's work, and it's a sensibility we share. I wanted to include a few prints that embody an open, joyful appreciation of the world in the collection too, such as the one below.

    Arayu Spa at Shiobara by Kawase Hasui

    Morning at Arayu Spa, Shiobara (1946) - coming soon

    *Update* The Collection is Available Now

    So, we hope you’re excited as us to discover and appreciate the works of Hasui in new depth with our latest collection. Click here to discover the full collection.


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