Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, was born and worked in Kobe, an international port city that inspired much of his subject matter. He was employed as a postmaster, but his ancestors were merchants, particularly traders in the alcoholic spirits sake (酒 or nihonshu 日本酒), mirin (味醂), and shôchû (焼酎), which they transported to Tokyo in their fleet of ships.
Kawanishi's family opposed his becoming involved in painting and printmaking. A self-taught artist, Kawanishi started painting in oils, but turned to woodblock printmaking after seeing a print by Yamamoto Kanae (A small bay in Brittany) displayed in a shop window in Osaka. He was not interested in ukiyo-e, although Nagasaki-e naturally fascinated him, with its exotic ships and foreign traders. Gradually abandoning oils, Kawanishi fell under the influence of the Art Deco poster style of the 1920s and first exhibited prints in 1923 with the Nihon Sôsaku-Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association). Other influences were Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二), Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎), Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎), and European artists such as Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Leger, and Matisse.
Kawanishi used poster colors and sumi (Japanese carbon black, i.e., soot, water, and glue), cutting his blocks with a curved chisel to obtain soft edges. He used katsura or ho wood, and printed on hodomura paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (possibly as many as 1,000), as well as printed albums and books, and sets or series. The latter included Shôwa bijin fûzoku jûnitai (Twelve customs of beauties from the Shôwa era), 1929; Kobe jûnigagetsu fûkei (Scenes of Kobe during the twelve months), 1931; and Hanga Kobe hyakkei (Prints of one hundred views of Kobe), 1935. Kawanishi was awarded the Hyôgo Prefecture Culture Prize (1949) and the Kobe Shinbun Peace Prize (1962). His son Kawanishi Yûzaburô (1923-2014) worked in his father's style, but with more international subjects.
For more about this artist, see Kawanishi Biography.
This design was first exhibited in Gendai hanga ten (Exhibition of Modern Prints) in 1955. Along with the title Hakuchô (White swan: 白鳥), the tutu style and feathered crown indicate that the ballerina is costumed for the ballet Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93). It is possible that the figure of the dancer is based on the celebrated British classical ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919-91).
Despite Kawanishi's prolific output, subjects such as this one are rarely encountered. A charming image in a large-size format, and very rare!
References: Hanga-ka: Kawanishi Hide no sekai, Vol I, no. 113, full page; Fiorillo, Kawanishi web page