When Japanese woodblock prints are discussed and sold, it is generally the choban or oban -sized prints, the ones that are roughly 7"x10" or larger and meant to be framed and displayed. Garnering less attention are the smaller prints, originally marketed as small collectibles and pasted into a collection book, greeting cards, post cards, etc. These prints were created by the same artists and artisans as the larger prints, but their purpose led them to be treated differently by their buyers. As a result it's generally harder to find these miniatures in good condition as who was going to frame or hermetically store such a tiny thing? In our opinion this makes them even more collectible.
To see all of the different renderings that we have please go to our Suma Beach at Night tag.
The composition is a familiar one to those who are fans of Hasegawa's Night Scenes and the Shin-Hanga movement, but that familiarity is generally with the chuban and oban-sized pieces.
The print is an image of Suma Beach at night, with a full moon glowing beyond the branches of a tall pine tree. Two laborers can be seen, possibly collecting seawater for processing into salt, one walking along the shore with a yoke over his shoulder while the other dips his buckets into the shallow water as waves lap at the sand.
While the print is a pretty close match to the larger piece shown here, the signature on this piece is not that of Arai Yoshimune, found on his other works, but is instead the signature of Hiroshige. How curious it is that the signature is of the world-famous artist of the 1850s when these prints were made between 1910 and 1930! It turns out that some publishers, Hasegawa included, were known for occasionally marketing modern prints of the time to tourists by capitalizing on the name of Hiroshige.
Less well-known are the various postcard-sized prints that were also a part of the catalog offered by Hasegawa or their partner-importer, the Shima Company of New York and San Francisco. These prints were inexpensive and generally treated less as art for the wall and more for art to be shared. People would use them as greeting cards, postcards (with envelope!), or glue them into journals (like modern day sticker books for kids). Because of this usage, it's generally harder to find copies of these prints, let alone in good condition.
product price list for Shima Company, courtesy Shotei
The Woodblock Print
This print is marked in the reverse with the "Made in Japan" stamp found on prints imported pre-World War II, and the only minor imperfection is the tiny bit of adhesive/paper in the top corner from where it was tacked to card stock. This brings us to the second mystery: the signature.
While we couldn't find copies of this particular piece elsewhere on the Internet, the above information conforms nicely with the 1938 order form catalog of the Shima Art Company, a major importer of Japanese woodblock prints. If we look under the "small greeting card" first column, we see a listing for "Suma Beach" attributed to "Hiroshige".
This print has good color, strong lines, good margins, and no signs of aging.
Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family. In Hiroshige’s groundbreaking series of woodblock prints, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido (1832-1833), Hiroshige captured the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo to Kyoto, the imperial capital. With the Tokugawa Shogunate relaxing centuries of age-old restrictions on travel, urban populations embraced travel art and Hiroshige became one of the most prominent and successful ukiyo-e artists. He also produced kacho-e (bird-and-flower pictures) to enormous success. In 1858, at the age of 61, he passed away as a result of the Edo cholera epidemic.