Obata Chiura (小圃千浦, November 18, 1885 - October 6, 1975) was born Obata Zoroku in Okayama, Japan and grew up in Sendai. He emigrated to California in 1903, where he pursued and taught painting and printmaking, leaving behind a highly distinctive and important body of work. His biography is summarized at our Obata Biography page.
Begun in 1928 and continuing for 18 months, Obata's "World Landscape Series" required 32 block cutters and 40 printers to complete 400 impressions each of 35 designs. Every finished print required numerous impressions from multiple blocks in order to meet Obata's very high standards for translating his distinctive watercolors into woodblock prints. Some printings of certain designs purportedly needed from 100 to as many as 160 impressions from the blocks. All but one design was a California subject (27 were scenes of Yosemite). Supposedly, of the 400 impressions made of each design, only the finest 100 examples were selected for the folios published by Tadeo Takamizawa. The "rejects," which numbered 10,500 impressions, were said to have been destroyed.
Foggy Morning, Van Ness Avenue was an immediate hit with critics and collectors. When reviewed by Nadia Lavrova of the San Francisco Examiner on January 4, 1931, she wrote: "To begin with, his subjects so far have all been drawn from California. One of the loveliest of his prints depicts a foggy morning on Van Ness Avenue, and leads one to wonder why so many artists have overlooked the decorative possibilities of the San Francisco fog."
As with our example, many of the published prints were not signed and sealed. Our impression appears to be a proof or variant printing with lighter application of color for the buildings on the left and a heavy sprinkling of mica throughout the sky (the uneven specular reflections in the image above are a photographic artifact).
Another unsigned impression is in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts), Acc #1963.30.3126.33. A signed, sealed, and dated impression can be found at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Acc #2015.11). The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo also owns an impression (Acc #M00126-001).
- Janice Driesbach and Susan Landauer: Obata's Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from His Trip to the High Sierra in 1927.Yosemite Association, 1993, pp. 36, 54, and 56.
- ShiPu Wang: Chiura Obata: An American Modern. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018.