fan crest   title
Home •  Recent Update •  Sales Gallery •  Archives
Articles •  Varia •  Glossary •  Biographies •  Bibliography
Search •  Video •  Contact Us •  Conditions of Sale •  Links

Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎)

Aru baiorinisuto no inshô (Impression of a violinist: あるバイオリニストの印象); portrait of Suwa Nejiko (諏訪根⾃⼦)
Stamped signature ("ONZI") below image
No artist seal
No pub. seal, but commissioned by the artist's family
(Posthumous printing by Hirai Kôichi from the original blocks)
1946 (blocks carved);
Printed c. 1955-60
(H x W)
Sôsaku hanga print
Image: 40.6 x 32.2 cm
Paper: 51.3 x 39.7 cm
Very good condition (a very clean sheet)
Price (USD/¥):
$1,100 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry: ONC07


Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955) was the preeminent figure of the sôsaku hanga (creative print: 創作版画) movement. A visionary modernist, Onchi used a varied and sophisticated approach to design, exploring figurative, abstract, and symbolic imagery through traditional and experimental techniques, both Japanese and Western. He was an excellent draftsman in the realistic manner, yet his explorations into abstract composition stand as seminal in the development of sôsaku hanga. The printmaker Yamaguchi Gen once said, "Onchi was a vital artist ... he had the inspiration and passion of a great artist. He was the embodiment of modern hanga in Japan and our ambassador to the rest of the world. He was heart and mind....". Perhaps more than anyone else, it was Onchi who exemplified the principle of self-carving and self-printing as essential to the sôsaku hanga artist. Even so, he contributed to various projects for which his self-carved images were printed by artisans or other artists as part of themed print series.

For more about this artist, see Onchi Kôshirô Biography.


Onchi's print depicts the violinist Suwa Nejiko (諏訪根⾃⼦ 1920-2012) in a concert given before a Western Occupation audience in 1946. Although untitled, it is known as Aru baiorinisuto no insho (Impression of a Violinist: あるバイオリニストの印象) because in the following year, Onchi composed a poem with that title, dated October 12, 1947, which was based on his strong emotional response to the event. The verses speak of Suwa's pale face and white silk robes illuminated by a yellow light, her energetic playing before an occupation army audience grating upon Onchi's spirit. (There are two known early self-printed impressions or trial proofs with yellow color on the face and background in evocation of the stage lighting.) Onchi ends his poem with a lament for the tragedy of Suwa's art under such conditions, using the yellow color as a metaphor for his sadness.

This portrait of Suwa blends representational and abstract elements with an effective use of stark contrasts and limited color. The shape of the violin is used as a black frame for the composition, as well as for the contours of Suwa's head. Perhaps the repeated shape-within-shape motif implies the confinement of the Japanese spirit in the aftermath of war, as suggested by Onchi's poem (Oct. 12, 1947): The bow rises energetically and passes through the air/The violinist’s thin body is lit up by the man-made light/What a yellow light/on the pale face/On the white silk of her clothes/This flesh that has come through a war-torn Europe/And now stands on the stage of the army occupying the fatherland/Ah the grating sound of string after string keeps gnawing at my marrow! / How tragic art is / My heart becomes yellow/Even my tears become yellow (see Swinton ref. below).

Onchi titled an early impression as Impretion einer geige zin, a loose German translation of the commonly used English title, "Impression of a Violinist." Statler (see ref. below) notes that Onchi made only 13 impressions, but that is a slight underestimation, as a few more than that are known. Multiple editions of this print were made both by Onchi and later by his family commissioning a memorial edition from Hirai Kôichi c. 1955-1960; another edition of 20 printed by the artist's son Kunio was made in 1993. Hirai printed works as early as circa 1914-1916 for Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二 1884-1934), a leading figure in the Taishô-period Romanticism movement in Japan who was a seminal early influence on Onchi.

As for lifetime, self-printed impressions, note the following (suggested by the Onchi specialist Elias Martin):

  • 1st state: Yellow block used on face, gray block used at left (known in a single impression: ex-Felix and Helen Juda Collection, now in the Aomori Museum of Art).
  • 2nd state: Yellow block used on face, black block used at left as in conventional impressions (state known in a single impression: ex-Onchi Family Collection, now Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Collection).
  • 3rd state: Subtle light gray shading in the face, missing on all other impressions (known in 2 impressions: ex-William C. Hartnett Collection, now in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and another in a private collection).
  • 4th state: The remaining impressions all fall into this state, with variations in pigment applications — they share expressive printing throughout the design. Some impressions have a more wet-like printing effect in the background; others have a free, more variable printing of the black block. Two impressions are known with an extra white color block for the unprinted area around the figure (ex-Felix and Helen Juda collection, now in a private collection, and the second in another private collection).

Lifetime impressions of this design are very rare, with nearly all now in institutional collections. Posthumous impressions from the original blocks, which are not all that common either, represent the next best option for collectors who want to acquire one of the great iconic images in all of sôsaku hanga.


  1. Iwabe Sadao (ed.): Onchi Kôshirô hangashû (Collected Prints of Onchi Kôshirô: 恩地孝四郎版画集). Tokyo: Keishôsha (形象社) Ltd., 1975.
  2. Matsumoto et al.: Onchi Kôshirô (Exhibition catalog National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo), 2016.
  3. Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp. 178-199 and 261-85.
  4. Merritt, Helen & Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 267-272.
  5. Smith, Lawrence: Japanese Prints during the Allied Occupation 1945-195: Onchi Kôshirô, Ernst Hacker and the First Thursday Society. London: British Museum Press, 2002.
  6. Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints, An Art Reborn. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 28-29, 185-186.
  7. Swinton, Elizabeth de Sabato: Graphic Art of Onchi Kôshirô. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1986, dissertation, Harvard University (see p. 180 for translation of Onchi's poem).