Maekawa Senpan (前川千帆 1888-1960), whose original name was Ishida Shigezaburô, was born in Kyoto, the younger brother of a minor print artist, Asaga Manjirô (1885-1965). He studied at the Kansai Bijutsuin (Kansai Fine Art Academy) starting in 1905, at first with Asai Chû (1856-1907), then with Kanokogi Takeshirô. He moved to Tokyo in 1911 where he began a long career as a cartoonist for the monthly magazine "Tokyo Puck" (Tokyo pakku, 東京パック 1905-1912). After returning from a sojourn in Korea 1915-17, he resumed his cartoon work, this time for the newspaper Yomiuri shinbun (読売新聞 founded in 1874). Maekawa began printmaking after viewing an exhibition of some prints by Minami Kunzô (1883-1950) in 1911, whereupon he was inspired to take up self-carved woodblock printing (sôsaku hanga), which he taught himself over a ten-year period. (He told Oliver Statler that, "Later, I got acquainted with some artisans and found they could have taught me the same things in a few hours.")* He exhibited with the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association) starting in 1919 and was a founding member and frequent exhibitor with the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japanese Print Association) from 1931 to 1960. By around 1953, Maekawa had become successful enough to earn his living primarily from printmaking.
Maekawa is considered was one of the great personalities of twentieth-century Japanese printmaking, known for his independence and radical political beliefs. Yet he was also a dedicated traditionalist and supporter of Japanese folk life and customs. He is most admired for his depictions of Japanese manners and customs in large numbers of single-sheet prints and albums. Maekawa also collaborated on some group series, such as Shin Tokyo hyakkei (One hundred views of new Tokyo, 1929-32, for which he contributed 12 prints) and Shin Nihon hyakkei (One hundred views of new Japan, 1938-41, contributing two prints and also serving as editor for print nos. 10 through 39, after which publication ceased due to the Second World War). After the War, he contributed to the portfolios Tokyo kaiko zue (Recollections of Tokyo, 1945), Nihon mizoku zufu (Picture notes on native customs of Japan, 1946), and Nihon jozoku sen (Selection of customs of Japanese women, 1946), all published by Fugaku Shuppansha. Maekawa's own major collections included the portfolio of five prints titled Nihon fûkei hanga karuizawa no zu (Prints of Japanese landscapes, views of Karuizawa, 1939), the five albums of Yokusen fu (Hot Springs, 1944-59), and an extended series of small woodblock books called Kanchû kanbon (Leisure-time leisure books, 1945-60).
The portfolio Gendai meika sôsaku hanga shû featured 10 artists, one print each, in editions of 100. They were Azechi Umetarô (1902-1999), Izumi Shigeru (1922-1995), Komai Tetsuo (1920-1976), Nakao Yoshitaka (1911-1994), Hagiwara Hideo (1913-2007), Maekawa Senpan (1888-1960), Maeda Maso (1904-1974), Miyashita Tokio (1930–2011), Yamaguchi Gen (1896-1976), and Tagawa Suiô (act. c. 1950s).
Maekawa's appealing folk-art style is on full display here. He demonstrates a confident line, modulated in thickness and edge smoothness to create the naturalistic forms. His expert printing of textures conveys an atmosphere of unadorned normality and everyday ordinariness. The simplified forms, reduced to essentials, make the composition easily accessible. Yet while what we see in the present print might at first glance appear to be naive or artless, it is in fact a rather warm and charmingly intimate interpretation of a young woman enjoying herself in the bath, one of Maekawa's favorite themes — he was known to scout out hot springs (onsen: 温泉) for suitable subjects to draw and cut into woodblocks.
James Michener once wrote a description of another print by Maekawa Senpan that would have been appropriate for the present design: "The subdued color scheme is his. The touch of pink has been called almost a Maekawa trademark. And the winsome little girl is a sister to the hundreds of others he depicted. He was an artist with a feminine approach to life, indifferent to the tides of modernism that have swept his colleagues, and content to look lovingly at the village aspects of a land and a society that he obviously loved."**
* Oliver Statler, Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland: Tuttle, 1956, p. 46.
** James Michener, The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation. Rutland: Tuttle, 1962, p. 19 (original folio edition) or 1968, p. 21 (popular edition).
Note: The series Gendai meika sôsaku hanga shû (Collection of famous contemporary creative prints) was distributed by Gendai Meika Sôsaku Hanga Haifu Kai (Famous Contemporary Creative Prints Distribution Association).