Hashiguchi Goyo had created only 14 prints during his life-time - the first at age thirty-five and the last shortly before his death at forty-one. These prints are among the finest and most expensive modern Japanese prints a collector can buy. They made Goyo immortal. If Hashiguchi had not been of such frail health, he could have become the leading Japanese artist of the twentieth century.
Hashiguchi was born as the son of a samurai in Kagoshima as Hashiguchi Kiyoshi. He was taught in traditional Kano painting by his father from the early age of ten. Later he went to Tokyo, called himself Goyo and studied Western oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1905 as the best student of his class.
His first commission was an illustration for a book titled I am a Cat. In 1907 Hashiguchi won the first prize in a contest for an ukiyo-e poster. This brought him some public recognition and one would have expected the artist to jump into creating more Hashiguchi prints. But instead Goyo began to study ukiyo-e from books, originals and reproductions.
Goyo made his first print in 1915 - more or less talked into by the Shin Hanga publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. At that time he was already thirty-five years old and with the exception of the ukiyo-e poster, the book illustrations and a few drawings he had not really worked as an artist but more as a scholar. The tragedy was his frail health. He suffered from the beriberi disease and all kind of complications.
The first Goyo Hashiguchi print titled Woman in bath or Yuami was a terrific masterwork. Watanabe was enthusiastic and wanted to continue the cooperation with Hashiguchi. But the artist had other plans. Probably he was feeling too much restricted in his artistic freedom by the successful but rigid and business-like Watanabe.
The project with Watanabe had at least ignited the interest of Goyo in becoming a serious print artist. It took him another three years during which he had supervised a project of ukiyo-e reproductions, to produce the next Hashiguchi prints.
From 1918 until his death he produced thirteen prints - four landscapes, one nature print depicting ducks and eight elegant, sensitive prints of women.
In late 1920, Hashiguchi's latent health problems escalated into meningitis. He supervised his last print Hot Spring Hotel from his death bed in hospital, but could not finish it personally. He died in February 1921.
Goyo had left several sketches from which his heirs - his elder brother and his nephew - had later produced seven more prints. The carving and printing had been commissioned to Maeda Kentaro and Hirai Koichi.
Goyo Hashiguchi prints are of extremely high quality standards. They were sold at very high prices at the time of their first publication and sold well nevertheless. The tragedy of Hashiguchi was the short time span of only two years to produce these superb masterworks - apart from his first print published with Watanabe.
Reproductions from newly carved blocks have been made after Goyo's death. And while an early edition printed before the artist's death can have a market price of USD10,000 or more, the value of a reproduction/reprint is only a fraction of it. The blocks of the original 14 Goyo prints are said to have been destroyed in the Kanto earthquake of 1923. Any reproductions should be marked as such with Japanese writings in the margins - which can be cut off.
New collectors are advised to be cautious before spending a lot of money for a Goyo print. Newbies should better keep their fingers off or buy a reprint from a recarved block. They are as beautiful as an early edition.
Author: Dieter Wanczura