"I do not paint subjective impressions. My work is based on reality...I cannot falsify .. (but) I can simplify…I make mental impressions of the light and colour at the time of sketching. While colouring the sketch, I am already imagining the effects in a woodblock print" – Hasui Kawase
Kawase Hasui's photo at the exhibition hall-1953 Courtesy of Watanabe Woodblock Print Co.
Kawase Hasui, 1883-1957, was a Japanese artist and one of the most prolific printmakers of the Shin Hanga (new prints) art movement of the early 20th century. Known internationally for exquisite landscape prints, he was a master of light and depth. His serene and poetic prints that depict dawn, dusk, snow, rain, nighttime, and moonlight are almost surreal. Few of his prints contained people-figures, except for a single person in the background. However, Hasui’s execution of natural and landscape scenes were enough to capture poetic and emotional response without the inclusion of figures.
Kawase Hasui's Pond at Benten Shrine -1929
Hasui was born with the given family name Bunjiro in Tokyo into a family of silk merchants. As a child Hasui learned to paint in both the Asian and Western style. His was proficient in both watercolor and oil painting. His family was not very happy about his art ambitions and discouraged and blocked him from becoming an artist. They wanted Hasui to work in the family business and take it over one day. The conflict was solved when his sister married a shop employee, and they took over the business.
Hira from The Eight Views of Lake Biwa by Ito Shinsui
At the age of 26 Hasui applied to be a student of Kiyokata Kaburagi, a painter in traditional Japanese style. But Kaburagi considered Hasui to be too old and rejected him. Two years later Kawase again applied and was finally accepted. Kiyokata soon recognized the talents of his student and gave Hasui his artist’s name in 1910. In 1916 he was introduced to the publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe. In 1918 Hasui saw and was inspired by Ito Shinsui’s “Eight Views of Lake Biwa” which were being shown at a Kyodokai exhibition. Hasui submitted sketches to Watanabe and so began the collaboration that started in 1918 and continued into the 1950s.
Kawase Hasui's Clearing after a snowfall on Mount Fuji, Tagonoura Beach- 1932
In 1920, Hasui released his first falling snow print, receiving resounding international acclaim from both collectors and critics alike. Snow quickly becoming his most recognizable and desirable subject theme. The purifying effect the snow has on the landscape, lends to the tranquility of the scene with the bright red ancient temples found by Hasui around Tokyo, which remains some of his best and most original work.
Kawase Hasui's Snow at Kiyomizu Hall in Ueno-1930
In 1923, the great Tanto earthquake wrought widespread destruction upon Tokyo, mainly from the earthquake and the raging fires that ripped through predominantly wooden structures, in what some describe as a sea of swirling tornados, walls of fire, brought upon the Japanese by the wrath of God. Hasui’s house, along with his life’s work of sketch pads and paintings, were all consumed by the flames. His main publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō’s studio was destroyed as well, losing all the original carved woodblocks of many shin hanga artists.
Kawase Hasui's Senju Waterfall, Akame-1951
It is from the Tanto quake of 1923 that the term “pre-earthquake” is derived when describing shin hanga prints. Hasui prints typically fall into three main categories, based upon the actual time they were produced, which is often confusing and/or used to mislead collectors as many are sold without indication of their “Afterlife” edition status.
Kawase Hasui's Azalea Garden-1935
It seems as though Kawase would be constantly battling to succeed. He had very poor eyesight and wore very thick corrective glasses. His earliest prints that were destroyed in the 1923 Kanto earthquake were never reprinted, so any of his surviving pre-earthquake prints are extremely rare and are some of the most sought-after shin hanga prints. Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui are the three most important landscape woodblock print artists of Japan. Like Hiroshi Yoshida, many of his print designs were based on his watercolors and sketches of scenic places throughout Japan.
Kawase Hasui's Moonlit Ferry-1936
The 1924 - 1932 period was a tough one, between the rebuild of the Shōzaburō’s business and the impact of the world economic depression, so Hasui published works with other publishers. This was also his most prolific period with multiple masterpiece series, such as Souvenir of Travels, selection of Scenes of Japan.
Kawase Hasui's The Washington Monument on the Potomac River
In 1933, Kawase Hasui resumed working exclusively with Watanabe Shōzaburō and, with the help of American art connoisseur Robert O. Muller Hasui’s work became recognized and collected in America. Muller exported many Hasui prints to Europe and United States, making him one of the most famous Japanese Artist overseas at the time.
Kawase Hasui's Chuzenji Lake, Utagahama-1931
Hasui created and reproduced his renowned landscape prints despite his challenges. The artist created more than 400 woodblock designs for Watanabe until his death – an impressive number considering the decrease in demand for ukiyo-e prints and competition with the commercial sales of photographs. Hasui published most of his prints through the Watanabe publishing house but also through other publishing houses.
Kawase Hasui's Snow over Zojoji Temple-1953
Hasui Kawase died of cancer on November 7, 1957, at the age of 74 in Tokyo, Japan. By the end of his life, Hasui Kawase had created more than 600 editions of prints. He also produced oil paintings, traditional hanging scrolls and a few byōbu (folding screens) during his lifetime. In 1956, the Japanese government’s Committee for the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage included Hasui’s print, Zojo Temple in Snow, as an Intangible Cultural Treasure – the greatest honor for artists in postwar Japan. Additionally, in 1957, shortly before his death, Hasui was the first honoree to be revered by the Japanese government as a Living National Treasure – the highest and oldest artistic honor one can receive in Japan.
Kawase Hasui's Morning at Cape Inubo (Inubo no asa)-1931
Hasui is one of the last practicing artists of traditional Japanese landscape art. No artist has succeeded Hasui’s legacy. In fact, Hasui is regarded as one of the best landscape printmakers since Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). After his death, Watanabe distributed Hasui’s final print to friends and families at a memorial service – a print the artist had been working on while near his death on a hospital bed.
Kawase Hasui's Evening Snow, Edo River 1932
As an ironic twist to Kawase Hasui’s life the Japanese art historian and writer Muneshige Narazaki lauded Hasui’s art stating “Although Hasui is not well known in Japan, he is famous abroad. Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Hasui are the three greatest woodblock print artists of Japan.” So, the man who fought to be an rtist and faced multiple impediments - who is one of the best-known Japanese artists throughout the western world is not so famous in Japan.