Kasamatsu Shirô (笠松紫浪), born in Asakusa, Tokyo, was a student of Kaburagi Kiyokata (鏑木清方 1878-1973) starting at the age of 13. While learning Nihonga (Japanese style painting: 日本画) with Kiyokata, he concentrated on landscapes, thus departing from his teacher's primary focus, bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画). As a result, Kasamatsu designed few bijinga during his career.
Early on, Kasamatsu exhibited paintings at the Kokumin Bijutsu Kyokai (People's Art Society) and the government-sponsored Bunten (文展 more formally the Monbushô Bijutsu Tenrankai, or Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition 文部省美術展覧会 operating 1907-1918). Kasamatsu also participated in Nihonga groups such as the Sengakai (Select Art Society), the Tatsumi Gakai (Southeast Painting Society: 东南绘画学会), the Seikinkai (Blue Collar Society founded by Ito Shinsui 1898-1972 and Yamakawa Shûhô, 1898-1944) in 1939, and the Kyôdokai (Homeland Society: 家園學會) during the 1930s. Kasamatsu was also favored by the inclusion of fourteen of his prints in the second groundbreaking exhibition held at the Toledo Museum of Art, titled "Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints" in January 1936.
When exhibiting at the Sengakai in 1919, Kasamatsu met the shin hanga publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô (渡辺庄三郎 1885-1962), who extended an invitation to collaborate on the design and publication of woodblock prints. Possibly, Kiyokata facilitated this introduction, as he had done for several other of his students, including Kawase Hasui and Ito Shinsui. Kasamatsu's first print, Seiran Senzokuike Hachiman Jinja (Wind blowing through fresh green foliage, Hachiman Shrine at Senzokuike: 青嵐洗足池八幡神社), commonly known as "Windy Day in Early Summer," was published in that same year. As shown above right, this ôban (365 × 240 mm) woodcut was done in a freely sketched manner, capturing the quality of the original watercolor or painting.
Kasamatsu produced more than 300 works. His primary oeuvre comprises around 280 print designs almost exclusively in the ôban format. Added to this count are another 60 works in other formats (prints, drawings, paintings), most small but a few quite large, such as two four-panel screen paintings (1975 and 1988). Most of Kasamatsu's prints were created in the shin hanga ("new print": 新版画) manner, with the artist providing original sketches, watercolors, or paintings, which were then translated into woodcuts by master block carvers and printers under the supervision of the publisher. After his initial 1919 collaboration with Watanabe, Kasamatsu continued with that eminent publisher until the late 1940s, producing fifty or so prints.
In the early 1950s, Kasamatsu began working with Unsôdô Hanga (芸艸堂版), designing just over 100 prints until 1959-60 for the Kyoto/Tokyo firm. Overlapping his tenure with Unsôdô, Kasamatsu ventured out on his own, carving, printing, and selling his prints. In doing so, he followed the credo of the sôsaku hanga ("creative print": 創作版画) movement — jiga, jikoku, jizuri ("self-painted [drawn or designed], self-carved, self-printed": 自画 自刻 自摺). Even so, his subject matter remained traditional and highly focused on landscapes and cityscapes, although kachôga (bird and flower [nature] prints: 花鳥画) were also numbered among these works. From 1955 to 1965, Kasamatsu produced roughly 80 self-carved and self-printed designs. Some of these self-published prints carry a watermark with the first part of his art name, "Shi" (紫).
On the left is a well-known large ôban (391 x 258 mm) print titled Kasumu yûbe, Shinobazu ikehata (Hazy evening on the shore of Shinobazu Pond: 霞む夕べ 不忍池端) published by Watanabe in the spring of 1932. The view is an atmospheric and picturesque rendering of a popular three-section pond in southern Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo. Kasamatsu used a framing device of a close-up tree and drooping branches through which the pond, walking paths, electric lanterns, and Torii gate can be seen shrouded in blue-tinted mist. Such treatments of landscapes and townscapes were quite familiar by this time, as early twentieth-century artists had before them similarly conceived designs by the nineteenth-century master Utagawa Hiroshige. In the 1936 Toledo Museum catalog cited earlier, it is stated that about 20 blocks and about 25 "superimposed printings" were used for an edition of 300. These numbers might have been rather rough estimates of the actual numbers of blocks and stages of printing. The same applies to printing the designs for Asakusa Kannondô dai chôchin and Haru no yo, Ginza discussed below.
Most unusual for an artist of landscapes, Kasamatsu's designs were overwhelmingly in the vertical ("portrait") format, whereas his contemporaries (Hasui, Shinsui, Yoshida Hiroshi, and others) produced a mix of upright and horizontal designs over the course of their careers. An exception by Kasamatsu is shown below, a view titled Izusan kaigan (Seashore at Izusan: 伊豆山海岸), dated the tenth month of Showa 13 (October 1938) in the lower right corner. The warm reddish-brown sepia tone suggests sunset along the peninsula. Stylistically, Kasamatsu rendered the scene in a simplified manner, with a minimum of line and a nearly monochromatic palette. The curving sweep of the stone wall is echoed by a light circular band of cloud forms along the top of the image.
Two designs by Kasamatsu that are often reproduced in books about shin hanga were published in the year 1934. Below left, Kasamatsu depicted Asakusa Kannondô dai chôchin (Great lantern at Asakusa Kannon Hall: 浅草観音堂大提灯). The Asakusa Kannon (formally called Kinryûzan Sensôji: 金龍山浅草寺), dating back to the year 628, is the oldest temple in Tokyo. While it remains today a site of religious reverence and tourism, its complete destruction during World War II severely diminished the ancillary entertainment venues that had once flourished on the temple grounds during the Tokugawa period, continuing up until the Pacific War. It is interesting to compare Kasamatsu's interpretation with the famous, much earlier (1856) version titled Asakusa Kinryûzan in Utagawa Hiroshige's "One hundred views of Edo." The original edition of Kasamatsu's Asakusa design, shown below, was included in the 1936 Toledo Museum exhibition. That show's catalog, cited earlier, states that about 20 blocks and about 25 "superimposed printings" were used for an edition of 100.
In the view below right, an original-edition impression by Kasamatsu presents the Ginza, a famous shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo. Titled Haru no yo, Ginza (Spring night, Ginza: 春の夜銀座), this design relies on an unusual purple-blue to suggest the effect of artificial illumination at night. Crowds of people dressed in traditional Japanese kimono as well as Western clothing walk about the street. Silhouetted figures in a dance hall can be seen backlit at the middle-right edge. The large lantern in the center of the composition advertises a traditional geisha dance called Azuma odori (Dance of the Eastern Capital: 東をどり). At the lower left, the sandaled feet of a man can be seen just below the curtain of a sushi bar, which emits a strangely shaped bright light against the bamboo wall of the stall and onto the sidewalk. This patch of yellow, placed conspicuously within the pictorial space, is an unusual graphic element and a distinctive feature of this design. In the 1936 Toledo Museum catalog cited earlier, it is stated that about 20 blocks and about 25 "superimposed printings" were used for an edition of 100.
In the early 1950s, when Kasamatsu began working with Unsôdô Hanga (芸艸堂版), he produced designs such as Nikkô, Yômei-mon no yuki (Snow at Yômei Gate in Nikko: 日光陽明門の雪) from 1952, as shown on the right. There was often a distinct difference between the styles the Watanabe and Unsôdô printmakers, as the latter typically used somewhat thicker and more undulating keyblock lines resulting in a "weighter" appearance for the block carving and printing. The Nikkô Tôshô-gû (東照宮) Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県) is the most famous of many Tôshô-gû dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (德川家康 1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. First built in 1617, it was enlarged during the reign of the third shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光 1604-51). Five structures at Nikkô Tôshô-gû are designated National Treasures of Japan, and three more as Important Cultural Properties. Particularly famous is the elaborately carved and richly painted (gold leaf, lacquer) Yômei Gate. The great gate was (and still is) not only popular with tourists, but also with shin hanga artists. Besides Kasamatsu, there are depictions by Yoshida Hiroshi, Kawase Hasui, Tsuchiya Kôitsu (土屋光逸 1870-1949), and Takahashi Shôtei (高橋松亭 1871-1945).
When Kasamatsu introduced his self-carved and self-printed sôsaku hanga-style prints in the 1950s, his subject matter began to expand. Of course, not being trained in the artisanal apprenticeship tradition of block carving or printing, Kasamatsu's self-produced works took on a different manner, simplified and direct. In the design shown below left, a cat walks among onion stalks. Titled Negi no hana (Onion flowers: ねぎの花), it is an impression from the 1958 edition of 100 on large ôban-format paper (430 x 285 mm) watermarked "Shi." As is often the case with self-published works, the artist has signed in pencil and added his "Shirô" artist seal, here at the lower left of the image. The carving is straightforward and bold, compared to the finely executed works by the artisans working for either Watanabe or Unsôdô. Nevertheless, there is an appealing authenticity in the restrained chromatic range and rhythmically arranged shapes. The playful inclusion of the cat seems unlike anything in Kasamatsu's earlier shin hanga works.
In the print below right, Kasamatsu depicted a rural village hut covered in deep snow. Titled Yukiguni (Snow country: 雪国), it is dated 1959. Self-carved and printed, the paper format is large ôban (430 x 289 mm). This impression does not include an edition number. The signature is written in black ink next to the artist's seal at the lower right within the image. With simple, thick, flowing lines, and using a limited color palette, Kasamatsu rendered the scene quite effectively. True to a long tradition going back to the early days of full-color printing in ukiyo-e starting in the 1760s, Kasamatsu treated the unprinted areas of the paper as ""snow," made readable by the particular forms of the dwellings.
One of the most comprehensive showings of Kasamatsu's works took place in a 1996 exhibition held at the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum, Japan titled Mokuhan Nihon hyakkei, Kasamatsu Shirô mokuhanga ten (Woodcuts of 100 famous views of Japan: Exhibition of Kasamatsu Shirô's woodblock prints: 木版日本百景 笠松紫浪木版画展).
Works by Kasamatsu are in the collections of many public institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Cincinnati Art Museum; Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; Honolulu Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington, DC; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and Toledo Museum of Art. © 2021 by John Fiorillo