28.5 x 38.8 Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎) -- OsakaPrints.com -- Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock and Modern Prints and Paintings
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Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎)

Kawaguchi-ko (Lake Kawaguchi, 河口湖) titled in lower left margin
Pencil signature "U. AZECHI" in lower margin
Stylized "U" (う) artist seal at lower right of image
Self-carved,, self-printed, self-published; there is a hanpusaku (頒布作) seal on the back (see note (*) below)
1941 ("-41" in pencil in lower margin
(H x W)
Sôsaku hanga ("creative print) ôban woodcut
28.8 x 38.5 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; no issues of note
Price (USD/¥):
$1,790 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry: AZH06


Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎 1902-99) was born in Ehime prefecture in Shikoku. He first studied painting by correspondence course and began making prints by scratching out designs on lead plates, inking them, and using a teacup as a "baren" (馬楝) or print-rubbing tool. Azechi was later befriended by the artist Hiratsuka Un'ichi (平塚運一 1895-1997), who supported his entrance into art exhibitions, such as those held by the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association: 日本創作版画協会) in 1924 (he joined the association in 1932), where Azechi eventually met other artists, such as Maekawa Senpan (前川千帆 1888-1960). However, Kôshirô Onchi (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955) was his greatest influence. Onchi encouraged Azechi to rely upon his own experience in the pursuit of art and life as an artist. Azechi quit his job at the printing office and became a freelance artist. His prints from the 1920s-1930s often depicted landscapes, but he engaged with other subjects. After World War II, he developed his distinctive style using simplified forms and flat areas of bold colors, usually portraying mountains and mountain men, subjects for which he is best known. He also gained some renown in Japan as an essayist on the subject. An accomplished mountaineer, Azechi led a vigorous outdoor lifestyle well into his nineties.

For more about this artist, see Azechi Umetarô Biography.


hanpusaku_signature_titleAzechi once said that, "As for my work, the greatest influence was Onchi, and my simplified style today owes most to him." Indeed, the master's influence is readily apparent in Azechi's soft-edge printing of the forms, done entirely from color blocks, without keyblock outlines, and achieved through the use of curved chisels. In modern Japanese prints, the curved-chisel technique for carving out forms in woodcuts dates back to the first sôsaku hanga print by Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎 1882-1946), titled Gyofu (Fisherman: 漁夫), which appeared on the contents page of the magazine Myôjo (Morning star: 明星) in 1904. Onchi later adapted the method for some of his works, calling it asa-bori (浅彫り), a shallow block-cutting technique used for printing soft-edge forms in works such as portraits where the building up of shapes to model faces was required.

Lake Kawaguchi (lit., Estuary Lake', 河口湖) is located in the town of Fujikawaguchiko in southern Yamanashi Prefecture near Mount Fuji. Situated within the borders of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (富士箱根伊豆国立公園), it is the second largest of the Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji-goko, 富士五湖) in terms of surface area, and is located at the lowest elevation with no natural outlet. In 2013 the lake was added to the World Heritage List as part of the Fujisan Cultural Site.

The more famous view of Kawaguchi Lake features Mount Fuji in the background, but here Azechi chose the opposite, less obvious view.

Our impression, which is from the earliest edition, is especially "soft" and expressive. Later printings tend to have more contrast and harder contours, as, for example, the impressions from the standard edition of 100.

Note: The seal of a hanpukai (buyer's or distribution club: 頒布会) on the reverse of this impression, which reads Hanpusaku ("Distributed work": 頒布作), indicates that it is a first-edition printing supported by subscribers of Azechi's early works. See the split image on the right, which shows two details taken of the reverse. The Hanpusaku (頒布作) seal is at the top left, and the artist's name (畦地梅太郎) at the lower left. The print title (川口湖) is given on the far right, which uses a different character for "kawa" (川) than the one Azechi inscribed in pencil (河) on the front lower margin.

Some twentieth-century sôsaku hanga ("creative print": 創作版画) publishers involved in hanpukai included the Kobe Hanga no Ie (House of Print; Yamaguchi Hisayoshi), Nihon Hangasha (Japan Print Co., Tokyo; Hasegawa Tsuneo), Sôsaku Hanga Kurabu (Creative Print Club; Nakajima Jûtarô; published the Shin Tokyo hyakkei, 100 views of new Tokyo: 新東京百景), and Hangasô (Print House; Hirai Hiroshi). Private hanpukai included Kogan [Shin] Azuma Nishiki-e [Ga]kai (Kogan’s [New] "Brocade Pictures of the East" Association; Tobari Kôgan), as well as one by Tagawa Ken. Also, in the 1920s, Nakagawa Isaku, Benji Asada, Takeji Asano, and Tokuriki Tomikichirô formed the Yonin Sôsaku Hanga Hanpukai (Four-Men Creative Print Distribution Club: 四人創作版画頒布会) in Kyoto.

References: Azechi's work has been discussed and illustrated in many Western publications, among them:

  1. Abe, Setsuko and Nishiyama, Junko: "Modes of dissemination: hanpukai distribution clubs," in: Waves of renewal: modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960 (Selections from the Nihon no hanga collection, Amsterdam). Amsterdam, Hotei Publishing, p. 2016, pp. 62-64.
  2. Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1990, pp. 146, 150, 204, 234-235, 254, 281-282, 284.
  3. Michener, James: The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1962, pp. 39-42.
  4. Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. London: British Museum, 1983, pp. 104, 118; no. 91a.
  5. Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 136-141, 199-200; nos. 74-81, 82.
  6. Uhlenbeck, Chris, Reigle Newland, Amy, de Vries, Maureen: Waves of Renewal. Modern Japanese prints from the Nihon no Hanga collection, Amsterdam. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2016, pp. 285-288.

Azechi Umetarô also produced an informative book on the making of prints:

  • Umetarô Azechi, Japanese Woodblock Prints: Their Techniques and Appreciation. Tokyo and Rutland, VT: Toto Shuppan Co., 1963.