The early 20th century witnessed a transformative exchange between Western artists and Japanese printmaking movements, particularly shin hanga and sosaku hanga. This cross-cultural dialogue was facilitated by the broader phenomenon known as Japonisme, which had captured the imagination of Western artists since the late 19th century. Japonisme, characterized by the appreciation and incorporation of Japanese artistic elements into Western art, laid the groundwork for the later engagement with shin hanga and sosaku hanga.

Japonisme and Early Encounters

Lilian May Miller - Rain Blossoms, Japan (A)Japonisme, a term coined in the 19th century, refers to the Western fascination and influence of Japanese art and aesthetics on European and American culture during the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This artistic movement emerged as Japan opened its borders to the world after centuries of isolation, and Western artists, particularly in France, were captivated by the unique visual language, craftsmanship, and philosophy found in Japanese prints, ceramics, and other traditional arts. Japonisme had a profound impact on various artistic disciplines, including painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and even literature. Artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec were among those who incorporated Japanese elements into their works, leading to a cross-cultural exchange that enriched the artistic landscape of the time.

The influence of Japonisme extended beyond the realm of fine arts, permeating into everyday life and design. The aesthetic principles of asymmetry, simplicity, and harmony became sought after in Western fashion, interior design, and decorative arts. Japanese motifs such as cherry blossoms, fans, and kimonos became popular decorative elements, reflecting a broader cultural shift in Western societies towards an appreciation of the exotic and a desire for new, unconventional artistic expressions. Japonisme, thus, represents a significant chapter in the history of cross-cultural artistic exchange, showcasing the global impact of Japan’s rich artistic traditions on shaping the visual language of the Western world during a period of profound societal and artistic transformation.

Japonisme played a pivotal role in shaping Western perceptions of Japanese art, creating a fascination that extended to various forms of expression. Artists like Charles W. Bartlett, influenced by Japonisme, immersed themselves in Japanese woodblock printing traditions upon visiting the country. Bartlett’s collaboration with Japanese artisans and publishers resulted in works such as “Twilight in Uraga” (1916), showcasing a harmonious fusion of Japanese and Western artistic sensibilities (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2022).

Shin Hanga’s Collaborative Aesthetics

Shin hanga, a movement that revived traditional ukiyo-e with a modern twist, attracted Western artists who were drawn to its collaborative ethos.

Several Western artists, particularly those from Europe and the United States, became involved in shin hanga by collaborating with Japanese printmakers and publishers. Notable among them was Arthur Wesley Dow, an American artist and educator, who played a significant role in introducing Western artists to traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques. Dow’s teachings and writings influenced a number of American artists, including Helen Hyde and Bertha Lum, who later traveled to Japan to study and work with Japanese printmakers.

Bertha Lum, influenced by Japanese art through the lens of Japonisme, created woodblock prints characterized by meticulous craftsmanship. Her work, including “The Lantern Makers” (1921), reflects the shin hanga emphasis on collaboration, as she collaborated with Japanese carvers and printers to achieve a seamless integration of Eastern and Western artistic elements (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2022).

Sosaku Hanga and the Pursuit of Individual Expression

Elizabeth Keith - Ai to Shiro (Blue and White)While Japonisme had traditionally leaned towards appreciating Japanese aesthetics, the sosaku hanga movement attracted Western artists seeking a more personal and individualistic approach to printmaking. Helen Hyde, influenced by Japonisme, immersed herself in Japanese culture and engaged with sosaku hanga principles. Her print “After Bath” (1914) exemplifies the movement’s emphasis on self-expression and experimentation, as Hyde carved her woodblocks independently (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2022).

Intersections and Synthesis

The legacy of Western artists associated with shin hanga and sosaku hanga underscores the multifaceted nature of cross-cultural artistic exchange. Clifton Karhu, an American artist residing in Japan, exemplified this synthesis, producing woodblock prints influenced by traditional Japanese printmaking, reflecting Japonisme’s ongoing impact. Karhu’s “Aomori Winter” (1974) not only captures the beauty of rural Japan but also showcases the dynamic intersections between shin hanga, sosaku hanga, and Japonisme (Karhu Estate, 2022).

Legacy and Continued Exploration

As we explore the impact of shin hanga and sosaku hanga on Western artists within the context of Japonisme, it becomes evident that these movements left an indelible mark on the global art landscape. The early 20th century marked a period of fruitful collaboration and creative synthesis, where Western artists, influenced by Japonisme, engaged with Japanese printmaking traditions, contributing to a rich tapestry of artistic expressions that transcended cultural boundaries.


In conclusion, the intersections between Western artists, shin hanga, sosaku hanga, and Japonisme in the early 1900s resulted in a transformative period of artistic dialogue.

Western Artists Influenced by Shin-hanga

Bertha Lum (1879–1954): An American artist known for her woodblock prints, Lum was inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e and shin-hanga. She studied woodblock printing techniques in Japan and contributed to the dissemination of Japanese printmaking in the United States.

Charles W. Bartlett (1860–1940): An English-born American artist, Bartlett was influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e and shin-hanga. He spent time in Japan, where he produced numerous woodblock prints, capturing scenes of landscapes and daily life.

Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956): A British artist known for his diverse body of work, Brangwyn was influenced by Japanese printmaking techniques. He created woodblock prints, some of which showed elements of shin-hanga aesthetics.

John Platt (1886–1967): Platt, a British printmaker and artist, was inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. His work often featured landscapes and scenes of nature, reflecting shin-hanga principles.

Florence Wyle (1881–1968): A Canadian sculptor and printmaker, Wyle was known for her woodblock prints influenced by Japanese art, particularly shin-hanga aesthetics. She often depicted landscapes and traditional Japanese themes.

John Taylor Arms (1887–1953): An American artist and printmaker, Arms was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and produced works that showed elements of shin-hanga, especially in his scenes of landscapes and architecture.

Western Artists Engaged with Sosaku-hanga

Helen Hyde (1868–1919): An American printmaker, Hyde was one of the early Western artists to embrace Japanese woodblock printing. She spent time in Japan and was influenced by ukiyo-e, later adopting a more individualistic approach aligned with the spirit of sosaku-hanga.

Elizabeth Keith (1887–1956): A Scottish-born artist who lived in Japan, Keith was influenced by Japanese printmaking. Her early works reflect a more traditional ukiyo-e style, but she later embraced a more personal and experimental approach, incorporating elements of sosaku-hanga.

Clifton Karhu (1927–2007): An American artist who spent much of his life in Japan, Karhu created woodblock prints inspired by traditional Japanese printmaking. His works often captured everyday life and scenery in Japan.

Walter J. Phillips (1884–1963): A Canadian artist and printmaker, Phillips was influenced by Japanese printmaking traditions and engaged with the principles of sosaku-hanga. His woodcuts often depicted landscapes and natural scenes.

Paul Jacoulet (1896–1960): A French-born artist who lived in Japan, Jacoulet’s works reflected elements of both traditional Japanese prints and sosaku-hanga. His prints often depicted exotic and imaginative scenes.

Leonard Foujita (1886–1968): A French-Japanese artist, Foujita engaged with Japanese art and culture, including printmaking. While not strictly adhering to sosaku-hanga principles, his works showed elements of self-expression and experimentation.