Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二) (Biographical details)

Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二) (printmaker; painter/draughtsman; Japanese; Male; 1884 - 1934)

Also known as

Takehisa Yumeji

Biography

Painter and print artist. Yumeji was born in Okayama Prefecture, the son of a sake wholesaler; in 1900 the family moved to Fukuoka, where he worked briefly for a brush-maker and learned the art of line which was always to be the basis of his art. In 1901 he was sent to Tokyo to learn business, but by 1905 he gave up his studies to be an artist. He took up with a socialist group and did illustrations for the left-wing magazine 'Hikari' and the newspaper 'Heimin Shinbun'. This was closed down in 1907 by the authorities, and Yumeji began to retreat from active political comment, though remaining throughout his life a sympathiser with the oppressed and with some aspects of Christianity.
In 1907 Yumeji married Kishi Tamaki, who ran a postcard shop in Tokyo. Thereafter he did much design for postcards and other ephemera. Their relationship was extremely turbulent from the start and soon ended in divorce, though they remained attracted to each other and continued to work together. In 1909 his first book of sketches and poems was published (Yumeji gashu - Haru no maki), followed by many others, which were intended and accepted as a new sort of 'Ukiyo-e'. The large-eyed, thin, sad beauties he created, based on Tamaki and on subsequent mistresses, became the standard romantic image for his generation. This style was heavily influenced by German 'Jugendstil' in which Yumeji was keenly interested. His celebrated book of poetry 'Dontaku' (Holiday) came out in 1913, with book design by Onchi Koshiro who had become a friend. It included the poem 'Yoimachi-gusa' which was set to music in 1918 and became a big national success.
Between 1914 and 1916 Tamaki and Yumeji founded and ran the Minato-ya shop in Tokyo which sold sheet-prints (the only ones he designed as such) and all sorts of paper goods for which he acted as designer. In 1914 also he met Kasai Hikono, who became his mistress, but who died early and tragically in 1920 aged twenty-four. From 1916, Minato-ya having failed mainly because of his lack of business sense, Yumeji began to design covers for sheet music, which eventually reached some 270 items. In 1919, after Hikono had gone into hospital, he met the third great female model in his life, Oyo, but this relationship too ended in 1925. In the decade 1920-30 he constantly travelled to hot-spring resorts and continued to paint and to design. His most celebrated paintings included the series 'Nagasaki junikei' ('Twelve Views of Nagasaki', 1920) and 'Onna judai' ('Ten Female Subjects', 1921). These were water-colours, but he also worked in oils, brush and ink and 'Nihonga' techniques.
Although he designed few sheet-prints, Yumeji was very influential on Japanese graphics, illustration and popular literature from 1909 onwards, when he published his first collection. His melancholic, poetic view of life, his ideals of the independence of the artist, and his own Bohemian and tragic lifestyle endeared him to many of his generation, including rather surprisingly Onchi Koshiro; and his effects on both 'Shin Hanga' and 'Sosaku Hanga' were considerable, as well as on graphic design and literary illustration in general. Having passed out of popularity by 1940, his reputation began to make a dramatic come-back in the 1970s, going hand in hand with renewed interest in the Taisho era of which he is now considered the representative figure.

Bibliography

Smith, Lawrence, 'Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989: Woodblocks and Stencils', BMP, London, 1994, p. 36 and nos 52-4.
Merritt, Helen, 'Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years', University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1990, pp. 22-31.
Tazawa, Yutaka, 'Biographical Dictionary of Japanese Art', Kodansha International, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, 1981.
Takehisa Yumeji Ikaho Kinenkan, 'Takehisa Yumeji', Ikaho, 1982.
Kawai Bijutsu Kenkyujo, 'Takehisa Yumeji-ten', exhibition at Espace Printemps, Tokyo, 1986.
Kato, Junzo (ed.), 'Kindai Nihon hanga taikei', III, Mainichi Shinbun, Tokyo, 1975, pls 127-46.
Swinton, Elizabeth de Sabato, 'The Graphic Art of Onchi Koshiro', Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1986, pp. 15-9.
Ogura, Tadao (ed.), 'Hanga (Genshoku gendai Nihon no bijutsu, 11)', Shogakkan, Tokyo, 1978.