In the first decades of the twentieth century, Shozaburo Watanabe started his publishing business, hiring a new generation of artists and craftsmen to create Japanese prints in the time-honored tradition of Hokusai and Hiroshige. To identify his prints Watanabe coined the term “shin hanga” or “new prints.” Like the prints of the previous century, the prints would be colorful images of Japan’s people and natural beauty. However, rather than planning for an all-Japanese audience, Watanabe actively courted the international market, touring his prints in the United States, and making the prints more appealing to foreign buyers by, for instance including the artist’s name and title in roman letters.
Watanabe’s designers were mostly Japanese but he also created prints designed by American and European artists. Watanabe’s business model started with hiring of the artist to create a commissioned design, next Watanabe’s block-cutters and printers made the prints themselves, and finally Watanabe sold the prints. However, another generation of printmakers were making their own prints from start to finish and showing them at exhibitions. These independent printmakers were at the forefront of the Japanese art market, and Watanabe’s publications appealed mostly to the American audience, combining Japanese aesthetics with western sensibilities, they established their own aesthetic in the print market.
IMAGE: Kawase Hasui, Japanese, 1883–1957, The Hori River, Obama, from the series Souvenirs of Travel, First Series, Autumn 1920, color woodcut, bequest of John H. Van Vleck, 1980.737
Programming & Financial Support
This exhibition is supported by the John H. Van Vleck Estate Fund, and a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.