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Igawa Sengai (井川洗厓) also 井川洗崖 and 井川仙厓

Prints of the China Incident: Sixth Compilation, Thirty-six Brave Soldiers under Commanding Officer Yanagizawa of the Combat Engineers Forming a Human Pillar in the Creek (Shina jihen: Dai-roku hen, Yanagizawa kôhei butaichô ika sanjûroku yûshi no kuriku ni okeru hitobashira, 支那事変・第六篇 • 柳沢工兵部隊長以下三十六勇士のクリークに於ける人柱); the original presentation folder reads: Shina jihen hanga Dai-roku hen, Igawa Sengai fude (支那事変版画 • 第六篇 • 井川洗厓筆)
"Sengai" (洗厓)
Artist's double-circle seal reading "Sengai" (洗厓)
Shiseidô (思成堂)
March 1938
(H x W)
Oban nishiki-e
41.5 x 28.7 cm
Excellent, with application of gofun (shell powder 胡粉 or calcium carbonate) in the water
Excellent color, never backed; rough top edge on verso where print had been attached to presentation folder. Folder itself has several creases
Price (USD/¥):
$515 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry: IGS01 


Igawa Sengai (井川洗厓) 1876-1961) was born Igawa Jôzaburô (井川常三郎) on May 1, 1876 in Kamiokuwacho, Gifu City. He was the son of Igawa Yohei who studied nihonga (Japanese-style painting, 日本画) with Tomioka Eisen (富岡永洗 1864-1905) and printmaking with Inano Toshitsune (稲野年恒 1858-1907). Over the course of his career he worked as a painter, illustrator, and print designer. He graduated from (and later joined) the Taiheiyôgakai (Pacific [Oil] Painting Society, 太平洋画会), a private Western-style painting school and artistic collective in Tokyo founded in 1902 by a group of artists who had studied in France under the tutelage of Jean Paul Laurens (1838–1921) at the Académie Julian. The organization is also known as Taiheiyôgakai Kenkyûsho (Institute of the Pacific [Oil] Painting Society, 太平洋画会研究所).

After serving in the Russo-Japanese War, Igawa was repatriated and in 1906 found a position at the leading newspaper Miyako shinbun (都新聞). Some years later, he worked on illustrations for the newspaper’s serialization, starting in 1913, of the epic novel by Nakazato Kaizan (1885-1944) titled Daibosatsu tôge (Great Bodhisattva Pass, 大菩薩峠), as well as contributed a frontispiece to the first English translation of Nakazato's novel. Igawa is considered one of the pioneers of modern book and magazine illustration, contributing to such popular magazines such as Kingu (King), Fujin gahô (Graphic Magazine for Women), and Kôdan kurabu (The Storytelling Club), and creating illustrations for novels such as Hiyoku no matsu (A Pair of Pines) by Gotô Chûgai (1868-1938), Shizuka Gozen (Lady Shizuka) by the female writer Hasegawa Shigure (1879-1941), and Konjiki yasha (The Gold Demon) by Ozaki Kôyô (1868-1903). As for his woodblock prints, he was admired for his bijinga (prints of beautiful women, 美人画), including participation in the collaborative series Shin ukiyo-e bijin awase (New contest of beauties of the floating world) published by Murakami in 1924.


Folder for Igawa SengaiThe present design is one of at least seven from a little-known set titled Shina jihen hanga (Prints of the China Incident, 支那事変版画), published from October 1937 until December 1938. Three designs depict soldiers in battle, three others show women on the home front, and and the last (seventh) portrays young women from the China Incident Home Front Women's Corps Brigade as they practice dousing a fire. The euphemistic terminology ("incident") in the set title was intended by the Japanese government to refer to the unofficial war with China from early September 1937, introducing propagandist word usage that would not quell patriotic sentiments regarding the invasion (the Second Sino-Japanese War remained undeclared until December 9, 1941). In this scene we see combat engineers under the command of an officer named Yanagizawa supporting a "human pillar" as others in the company make their way along planks set up like a long horizontal ladder laid across a creek. As bullets fly past, soldiers lean into the fusillade on their way to victory.

Igawa's rare set is most unusual, for by the 1930s the heyday of woodblock-printed sensô-e (war prints, 戦争絵) was long gone and would never again match the number of nishiki-e (full-color print) images produced during the first Sino-Japanese War (nisshin-sensô-e, 日清戦争絵 1894-95). Photography, film, and lithography had become far more commonly used media for image-based reportage of military conflicts.

We are pleased to include the original presentation folder, whose label reads Shina jihen hanga Dai-roku hen, Igawa Sengai fude (Prints of the China Incident: Sixth Compilation, painted by Igawa Sengai, 支那事変版画 • 第六篇 • 井川洗厓筆); see image at right.


  1. Hu, Philip K. (ed.), et al., Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan. Saint Louis Art Museum, 2016, p. 291, no. 140.3 (acc. no. 1084: 2010).
  2. Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992, p. 39.
  3. Newland, Amy Reigle and Hamanaka, Shinji: The Female Image: 20th Century Prints of Japanese Beauties. Abe Publishing Ltd and Hotei Publishing, 2000, pp. 101 (no. 131) and 208.