Kiyoshi Saito did a series of well known prints depicting his time in Kyoto during different seasons; these prints ranged in seasons, figures, and composition. This print in particular is one of his most minimal , done entirely in shades of grey/black, riding the line between figurative landscape and pure abstraction. In my opinion this is one of his most powerful scenes, almost “Into the Woods” in its composition and treatment. The print is pencil-signed by the artist and dates to circa 1963. It is numbered 90/100 of the edition.
The Woodblock Print
This dai–oban woodblock (approximately 15″x20″) is in very good condition to excellent. Solid color, good margins, no edge wear. It is affixed to a larger sheet of rice paper, and was probably done to strengthen the oversized sheet (unsure if added later or originally). A large and powerful piece in great condition by one of the most notable sosaku-hanga artists and Japanese artists of the 20th century.
About the Artist
Kiyoshi Saito (斎藤 清, April 27, 1907 – November 14, 1997) was a renowned Japanese printmaker known for his innovative contributions to the sosaku-hanga (creative print) movement. Born in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, Saito’s artistic journey began at an early age when he developed a fascination with woodblock prints. His initial exposure to traditional Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e prints, deeply influenced his artistic style.
Saito was born on April 27, 1907 in a small village named Bange in the Kawanuma District of Fukushima prefecture in the northern part of Honshu, the main Japanese island. When he was 5 years old, his father lost his business in Fukushima and the family moved further north to the island of Hokkaido, where his father worked in the coal mines in Otaru. When Kiyoshi Saito was 13 years old, his mother died and he was sent away to become the guardian of a Buddhist temple. He tried to escape but failed. Nevertheless the priests allowed him to return home.
Saito’s formative years were marked by encounters with influential figures in the Japanese art world. He studied Western-style oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts under Kiyokata Kaburagi, a prominent artist and ukiyo-e revivalist. This exposure to both traditional and modern techniques enabled Saito to develop a unique artistic vision, blending traditional Japanese aesthetics with contemporary sensibilities.
One of the major turning points in Saito’s career came in 1932 when he encountered the works of Shiko Munakata, a renowned woodblock print artist. Munakata’s bold and expressive approach to printmaking had a profound impact on Saito, leading him to embrace a more individualistic and experimental style. Saito drew inspiration from Munakata’s use of simplified forms and bold lines, which became defining characteristics of his own artistic expression.
Saito’s artistic style underwent further transformation during a visit to Europe in the 1950s. Exposed to the works of Western artists, including the German Expressionists and the Fauvists, Saito incorporated elements of Western modernism into his prints. He experimented with color and composition, moving away from the traditional Japanese woodblock print conventions and pushing the boundaries of the medium.
Throughout his career, Saito’s prints often depicted landscapes, traditional Japanese architecture, and scenes of rural life. His compositions displayed a harmonious balance of form, color, and texture, often achieved through meticulous carving and printing techniques. Saito’s distinctive style combined traditional Japanese woodblock techniques with a modernist sensibility, resulting in a fusion of Eastern and Western artistic traditions.
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- Merritt, H., & Yamada, N. (1995). “Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975.” University of Hawaii Press.