Shin hanga literally means New Prints. It was an art movement for a new style of Japanese prints from about 1910 until ca. 1960. Shin hanga took the art of ukiyo-e to a new renaissance.
The shin hanga movement integrated Western elements without giving up the old values of Japanese, traditional woodblock prints. Instead of blindly imitating Western art styles, the new movement concentrated on traditional subjects like landscapes, beautiful women and actor portraits. Inspired by European Impressionism the artists introduced the effects of light and the expression of individual moods. The result was a technically superb and compelling new style of Japanese prints.
The initiator shin hanga and driving force behind the scene was not one of the artists, but a publisher of the name of Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962).
He gathered a group of poor artists around him and gave them commissions. Watanabe had a good business sense and targeted the export market, mainly the U.S.A. and the European market. And it worked! The Westerners loved the New Prints and even the Japanese discovered the charm of shin hanga by and by.
The best known artists working for Watanabe were Hasui Kawase, Koson Ohara, Shunsen Natori and Shinsui Ito. Other important artists outside the Watanabe circle, are Hiroshi Yoshida and Goyo Hashiguchi. There are more well known and lesser known artists who created the most wonderful prints. Shin hanga is a field that still has something to discover!
Goyo Hashiguchi was born as the grandson of a samurai in Kagoshima City in the province of Kyushu. He had studied Western art at the Tokyo Academy of Fine Arts. Goyo Hashiguchi was extremely gifted and graduated as best student. In his first jobs he worked on several art projects - among others a series of reproductions of old ukiyo-e masters.
In 1915 he produced his first print in shin hanga style - Woman at the bath. It was published by Watanabe in 1915. Unfortunately Goyo Hashiguchi died at the age of 41 of meningitis. Before his death, Goyo Hashiguchi had created and published another thirteen prints under his own supervision. After his death seven more prints were published by his heirs. They had been produced after designs of Goyo or by finishing partially completed blocks left by the artist.
Goyo Hashiguchi had all the talents of becoming one of the greatest masters in the history of Japanese print art. It is a tragedy that he started with printmaking so late and passed away so early.
Hasui Kawase joined the shin hanga group in 1919. He designed mainly landscape subjects. His prints conserve the traditional style more than other artists. Best known are Hasui's famous night-time and snow-fall scenes.
In 1956, one year before his death, Hasui Kawase was declared a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government. He was the first person to receive this outstanding honor.
Do not be surprised to see a print design by Hiroshi Yoshida with an Indian elephant or a Swiss mountain village. Hiroshi Yoshida liked traveling. He was a cosmopolitan artist. At the end of his life Hiroshi Yoshida planned a series One Hundred Views of the World. Unfortunately he died before he could start this ambitious project.
Hiroshi Yoshida designed mainly landscape prints. He was a master of juggling with colors and light. Some of his prints show the same subject at different times of the day or at a different season of the year. The French impressionist Claude Monet had made the same kind of artistic experiments in the nineteenth century.
Koson Ohara had started his career as a painter. His first prints were illustrations of the Russo-Japanese war. At that time ukiyo-e printmakers had lost an essential source of income. Newspaper illustrations in the traditional print style were more and more replaced by photographs.
Koson Ohara created mainly designs of natural subjects - birds and other animals in a masterly manner. His works were exported in large numbers into the U.S.A. where his designs were well accepted (... and still are in our days.). In 1911, Koson changed his name to Shoson. You may also find the spelling Hoson.
Kotondo Torii was adopted into the famed Torii family that worked in ukiyo-e for several generations. Following an old tradition of using artist names, Kotondo called himself Torii VII. Kotondo Torii made only 21 woodblock prints in his life - all images of beautiful women.
Shunsen Natori's life ended in a most tragic way. His daughter had died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-two. Two years later, he and his wife committed suicide by poison at their daughter's grave.
Shinsui Ito was one of the leading figures of the shin hanga movement. He had learned woodblock printmaking as an apprentice from an early age on. Later he studied art under Kaburaki Kiyokata. He collaborated with Watanabe for 25 years. In 1952 he was appointed to the status of an intangible living treasure by the Japanese government.
Toshi Yoshida was the eldest son of Yoshida Hiroshi. He continued the style of his father without becoming repetitive. Toshi Yoshida had inherited not only his father's gift as an artist, but also the passion for traveling.
After his father's death in 1950, Toshi Yoshida experimented with abstract art. But after a while he returned to his favorite subjects of scenic landscapes and animals.
Shin hanga tend to be expensive. Demand is high, mainly in the US market.
In the upper range are prints by Goyo Hashiguchi, Natori Shunsen or Kotondo Torii.
Prices for Hasui Kawase or Hiroshi Yoshida prints are ranging somewhere in the middle, unless they are early printings pulled before world war II. Prices vary considerably on whether it is an early or later edition. Prints published before the great earthquake of 1923 have very high prices. In the aftermath of the earthquake huge fires raged. Watanabe's store was destroyed and with it all original blocks.
If your art budget is limited, you need not turn away from shin hanga. There are many excellent artists like Tsuchiya Koitsu (1870-1949) or Shotei, whose works are still available for reasonable prices.
Around 1989 shin hanga publishers like Watanabe Shop (now managed in third generation) began to pull out the old half-forgotten woodblocks by such shin hanga artists like Hasui and print fresh impressions from these old, original blocks in large quantities.
These impressions are called Heisei Editions after the Japanese calendar or atozuri ("new impressions"). These Heisei editions are cheaper than earlier impressions. There is nothing wrong with them. In technical terms these are usually excellent prints. But "serious" collectors will prefer early editions pulled before world war II or in the 1950/1960s. Therefore you will most probably not see any value increase for a "Heisei" print. But you need not be afraid of losing much money either.
And if you want to frame your print and hang it on the wall (for which art prints are made, aren't they?) it is the best solution for you.
Why? Because an art print that you have framed and hang on the wall is exposed to light and other damaging influences. Thus the print will sooner or later be in a condition (mat burns, toning, brittle paper, foxing) that is rejected by "serious" collectors and therefore such prints are more or less worthless when you try to sell them in the market.
If this chapter about Heisei editions and framing sounds strange or disturbing for you, please read two of my articles - one about Japanese print impressions and the other one about conservation of art prints. Afterwards please feel free to bite my nose off.
We have produced and published this introduction to shin hanga video a few years ago.
Author: Dieter Wanczura