Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, whose given name was Hideo, 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 several 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 日本創作版画協会 founded 1918). 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 two types of fine-grained wood for his blocks: katsura (Judas tree: 桂) and ho (magnolia: 朴), and printed on hodomura (程村) paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (more than 1,200), some included in 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.
Kawanishi recorded (seemingly) all of his designs in notebooks. These works total 1,227, although some of the catalogued designs lack dates or have the same titles as others, making it difficult to match up all his known prints with titles. Still, the number represents a good estimate of his prolific output. Further complicating matters is the lack of edition numbers, leaving researchers to guess at how many impressions of a given design might have been printed, whether self-printed or produced by artisans. Kawanishi's designs were made without keyblock lines, as he printed only with color blocks. His self-printed works were made in an expressive style with softer edges to the color areas and shapes, whereas impressions made by artisans working for publishers, or later those done by his son Yûsaburô, have sharper or more well-defined edges, giving the designs a more controlled appearance.
Our impression of Hanakuma (花隈) is self-printed, most likely a proof impression. It is design no. 67 from Kawanishi's series Kôbe hyakkei (One hundred scenes of Kobe: 神戸百景). The series was prompted by two occurrences. First, from 1929 to 1932, there was the publication of Shin Tokyo hyakkei (One hundred views of new Tokyo: 新東京百景) involving eight different artists, which served as an inspirational model for a contemporary remake of the 100-views theme already familiar in the ukiyo-e tradition. In particular, Kawanishi liked the 12 scenes by Kawakami Sumio (川上澄生 also 川上澄夫 1895-1972). Kawanishi, in fact, owned an impression of Kawakami's Marunouchi kumoribi (A cloudy day in Marunouchi: 丸の内曇日). Second, the first Kobe minato no matsuri ("port festival": みなとの祭) was held in 1933, which suggested to Kawanishi an occasion to celebrate his home town in his own print series. In 1933, Kawanishi designed the first print and finished all 100 designs by 1936 — a significant effort given that he both carved the blocks and printed the initial impressions. Incidentally, the second design in the series depicts a parade during the port festival.
In Kawanishi's Harukuma design we have a record of a changing locale in Kobe. Modern automobiles and telephone poles compete with a lingering sense of village life. Two young women in the forground are dressed in colorful kimono, as are three women in the middle distance, while the male figures appear to be wearing Western clothing. It is a scene of transition from the old world to the new.
This self-printed impression is a rarity that should excite collectors of Kawanishi's prints, or for that matter, collectors of sôsaku hanga (creative prints: 創作版画) published during the period between the two world wars. It is an opportunity not to be missed!
- D'Orlando, A., de Vries, M, Uhlenbeck, C. and Wessels, E.: Nostalgia dn Modernity: The Styles of Komura Settai and Kawanishi Hide. Amsterdam: Nihin no Hnaga, spring 2012., (exhibition cat.).
- Kawanishi Hide, Gashû "Kôbe hyakkei" Kawanishi Hide ga aishita fûkei (Collected pictures, "100 Scenes of Kobe," favorite scenes of Kawanishi Hide: 画集『神戸百景』川西英が愛した風景), 2008.
- Kobe City Koiso Memorial Museum of Art: (Kawanishi Hide, the retrospective. 120th anniversary of his birth (Kobe shiritsu Koiso kinen bijutsukan (神戸市立小磯記念美術館), Kawanishi hide kaiko ten --- Seitan ichihyakunijû nen (川西回顧展 生誕120年). Kobe: 2014.
- Uhlenbeck, C., Newland, A.R., de Vries, M.: Waves of renewal: modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960, Selections from the Nihon no hanga collections, Amsterdam. Hotei Publishing, 2016, pp. 240-246.