Thursday, 21 January 2010

Japanese Venus: Woman after the bath by Goyo Hashiguchi

Woman after the bath (1920)

If there is one artist who has been more influential than any other on Agent Triple P's pen and ink figure work it is Goyo Hashiguchi (1880-1921). His restrained use of colour as a way to give his delicate line figures a solid presence on the paper are a model for subtle printmaking and demonstrate the extraordinary lengths he went to to produce the highest quality image.

Goyo (real name Hashiguchi Kiyoshi) was the son of a samurai from Kagoshima. His father taught him traditional Kano painting but eventually Goyo went to Tokyo where he studied Western art and graduated top of the class at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1905.

After graduating he was really more of a scholar than a practising artist although he did some book illustration. In 1911 he got his first big break: to design a ukiyo-e style poster for the Mitsukoshi department store.

Bathing (1915)

He came to the attention of publisher Watanabe Shozaburo who was looking for artists with European training to produce what he called shin hanga (new prints). These were modern prints but produced in a traditional style aimed at the valuable new Western market. Watanabe had also adoped the fairly new tradition from the west of limited edition numbered prints which could realise higher prices than the traditional non-limited edition. Watanbe realised that Goyo, with his Western style training, could be a valuable addition to his team. Goyo did produce one print, a masterpiece named Bathing (1915), for Watanabe but he was a perfectionist and felt that Watanabe's standard of printmaking wasn't high enough and never worked with him again. Also, having been trained in the Western method Goyo may have appreciated more independence than Watanabe's set up gave him; he was not the only artist to leave the publisher's stable.

Nevertheless, his experience with Watanabe had got him interested in printmaking and he went on to supervise the production of a 12 volume book of reproductions of classical Japanese ukiyo-e prints which increased his knowledge of the printmaking process. From 1918 until his death at the age of 41 he produced 13 more prints, mainly of women (bijing-a).

Woman at a hot spring hotel (1921)

Goyo suffered from ill health most of his life (he had beri beri) and died of meningitis. Nevertheless he managed to supervise his last print, Woman at a hot spring hotel (1921) from his death bed. His total output was only 14 prints ( four landscapes, one picture of ducks and nine of beautiful women) during his lifetime although after his death his brother and nephew worked to produce more prints from his sketches. As a result of his low output and small print runs (often less than 80 copies) his prints fetch fabulous sums these days.

Woman washing her face (1920)

Nudes had never really been a feature of Japanese art and even the most erotic Shunga art, produced by masters such as Utamaro or Hokusai (with the exception, which we will explore another time, of fisher girls), featured women who are invariably dressed. Goyo, however had learnt to draw from life and his pictures can be regarded as the first successful nudes in Japanese art; perfectly pulling together the European and classical Japanese traditions.

Woman washing her hair (1920)

In our final picture Goyo has sensuously depicted the woman's long hair; something that would only usually be seen by a member of her family, as hair was always worn up in several buns at this time. It adds an intimate and slightly voyeuristic quality to this beautifully composed print.

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