Japan: 20th-century prints

The processes of modernization that occurred during the Meiji era (1868-1912) seemed to threaten the existence of the commercial colour woodblock print in Japan: moveable metal type was introduced for texts and photography for illustrations. The 'Floating World' and its associated Ukiyo-e school of art were also in decline.

However, in 1904 Yamamoto Kanae (1882-1946) started the Sōsaku Hanga ('Creative Print') movement. Following French practices of the time, he designed, cut and printed his works himself. His innovative lead was taken up by Onchi Kōshirō (1891-1955), Hiratsuka Un'ichi (1895-) and Hirakawa Seizō (1897-1964). At first these artists operated in an enclosed artistic circle, but the school flourished after the American occupation in 1945 and the new democracy. The artists developed increasing individuality, using larger formats and working for dealer-galleries. Some experimented with new techniques such as intaglio, lithograph and silkscreen. In more recent years, highly original artists have turned back to the woodblock, developing it as an ever more flexible medium of expression.

Another highly influential twentieth-century woodblock artist was Munakata Shikō (1903-75) who belonged to the idealistic mingei ('folk crafts') movement, and fused the spontaneous black and white print style of Hiratsuka with folk-Buddhist and Shintō styles. He established his reputation and confirmed the place of Japanese prints on the world scene with his prize at the São Paulo Biennale in 1955.

The Shin Hanga ('new print') movement which flourished under the guidance of the Tokyo publisher Watanabe Shōsaburō between 1915 and 1940 was a brief revival of the collaborative Ukiyo-e style print, featuring the three traditional Ukiyo-e subjects: Itō Shinsui (1898-1972) and Hashimoto Goyō (1880-1921) produced bijinga, Natori Shunsen (1886-1960) revived the actor print and Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) and Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) designed landscapes.

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