YOSHIKAWA Kanpô (1894-1979)
Yoshikawa Kanpô (吉川観方) began painting in the Japanese style in 1914. Long fascinated with ukiyo-e and the kabuki theater, he started
designing actor prints in 1916. He was an avid researcher and writer, and after he quit printmaking around 1925 he devoted himself to
writing about ukiyo-e, music, the history of costume, theater, and old Kyoto, as well as collecting paintings. Thereafter he produced
his own paintings only on commission.
In 1923-24 the Kyoto publisher Satô Shôtarô commissioned Kanpô to design actor prints, and some of these are
among the most successful in the 'shin hanga' style. The figure below left depicts the actor Kataoka Gadô (1882-1946; he changed
his name to Nizaemon XII in 1936) performing the role of Miyuki in the play Shôutsushi asagao nikki ("Recreating the True
Diary of Morning Glory"). The print bears the seal of the publisher (Satô Shô han), who issued the print in 200
impressions (carved by Maeda Kentarô and printed by Oiwa Tokuzô).
The kabuki story is a romantic tale about Asagao ("Morning Glory"), the young daughter of a wealthy samurai who flees her family
after she mistakenly believes she will be forced to abandon her lover Asojirô and marry a stranger (who, unknown to Asagao, happens
to be Asojirô, whose name was changed to Jirôzaemon after his recent adoption into a samurai family). While on the run she calls
herself Miyuki and is forced to eke out a living by playing the koto at an inn. One day she meets her lover again by chance, who sees that
she is now destitute and blind from tears and grief. Suddenly he is called away and she despairs, running after him in a fierce storm and ready
to throw herself into a raging river. She is stopped by a retainer of her father and ultimately regains her sight after curing her blindness
with a drug left for her by Asojirô.
Kanpô's design is a poignant portrayal of the blind Miyuki as she adjusts the plectra on her fingers while preparing to play for
Asojirô. Her form is set against a silver mica ground and the palette is made up primarily of shades of blue and purple. Her long slim
fingers are shown in a delicate gesture consistent with her fragile emotional state. The drawing of the closed eyes is derived from traditional
ukiyo-e depictions of zatô (blind masseurs and musicians) and effectively suggests Miyuki's blindness [see the figure on the right]. Kanpô's drawing also suggests with expressive subtlety the two-fold nature of the onnagata ("woman's manner," that is, the male actor of female kabuki roles), who possessed both "female likeness" (onnarashisa)
and masculine strength. There is a restrained elegance to Kanpô's style that distinguishes it from the work of other shin hanga artists.
Perhaps it reflects his Kyoto origins. © 1999-2001 by John Fiorillo
- Brown, Kendall & Goodhall-Christante, Hollis: Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, pp. 39 & 52, figs. 30-32.
- Halford, Aubrey & Giovanna: The Kabuki Handbook. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 295-99 .
- Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 39 & 49, plate 43.
- Smith, Lawrence: The Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. New York: Harper & Row, 1983, pp. 76-77, figs. 54-55.
- Toledo Museum of Art: A Special Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo, Ohio: 1930, fig. 329.