In the 1920s, the publisher Hasegawa commissioned a small group of artists to create woodblock prints for a series entitled “Hasegawa’s Night Scenes“, of which there were a total of 21 prints by 6 artists. This piece is the one contribution by Kobayashi Kiyochika to the series.
Hasegawa’s Night Scenes
The Hasegawa Publishing & Co. (also known as Hasegawa-Nishinomiya Publisher), was founded in 1885 by Takejiro Hasegawa whose original family name was Nishinomiya. In the 1930s his son and successor, Yosaku Nishinomiya, reverted the company name back to the original family name of Nishinomiya. T. Hasegawa is perhaps best known for his production of woodblock printed illustrated fairy tale chirimen-bon (crepe-paper books) during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).
Hasegawa’s Night Scenes series of twenty-one chuban prints illustrates evening views evocative of traditional Japan in a limited palette of sepia or blue and appears to have been originally issued in the 1910s, although Nishinomiya seems to have continued to produce the simple nocturnes in the same format into the 1930s. There are later post-war editions which are identified by thicker paper and the addition of margins with publishing information. The collaborative series included the work of Shoda Koho, Arai Yoshimune, Kiyochika Kobayashi, Gyosui Suzuki, and Eijiro Kobayashi. However, the was little emphasis placed on the individual artists; sometimes the artist seals are lacking, or even replaced by the spurious signature Hiroshige, clearly in an effort to dupe a hasty buyer. A 1920s catalogue issued by Hasegawa-Nishinomiya illustrates each of the twenty-one designs with titles but without identifying the artist for each work. For many of the artists in this series little is known beyond their work for Hasegawa or as part of this series.
The Woodblock Print
This chuban-sized printing of A Rainy Day at Kudan by Kobayashi Kiyochika is in excellent condition. Strong color, no fading, no foxing, no markings on the verso, solid margins. Based on the thin paper, “Made in Japan” stamp on the verso, and lack of margins, we believe this to be an early edition printing. When we say “strong color”, it’s worth noting how close to pure black the bokashi shading in the sky actually becomes, in that it is almost indistinguishable from the black background of the scanner.
About the Artist
Kobayashi Kiyochika (September 10, 1847 – November 28, 1915) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the Meiji period. Kiyochika is best known for his prints of scenes around Tokyo which reflect the transformations of modernity. He has been described as ‘the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan… [or, perhaps] an anachronistic survival from an earlier age, a minor hero whose best efforts to adapt ukiyo-e to the new world of Meiji Japan were not quite enough’.The son of a government official, Kiyochika was heavily influenced by Western art, which he studied under Charles Wirgman. He also based a lot of his work on Western etchings, lithographs, and photographs which became widely available in Japan in the Meiji period. Kiyochika also studied Japanese art under the great artists Kawanabe Kyōsai and Shibata Zeshin.
His woodblock prints stand apart from those of the earlier Edo period, incorporating not only Western styles but also Western subjects, as he depicted the introduction of such things as horse-drawn carriages, clock towers, and railroads to Tokyo. These show considerable influence from the landscapes of Hokusai and the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, but the Western influence is also unquestionable; these are much darker images on the whole, and share many features with Western lithographs and etchings of the time.These were produced primarily from 1876 to 1881; Kiyochika would continue to publish ukiyo-e prints for the rest of his life, but also worked extensively in illustrations and sketches for newspapers, magazines, and books. He also produced a number of prints depicting scenes from the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, collaborating with caption writer Koppi Dojin, penname of Nishimori Takeki (1861-1913), to contribute a number of illustrations to the propaganda series Nihon banzai hyakusen hyakushō (‘Long live Japan: 100 victories, 100 laughs’).