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Shiro Kasamatsu Japanese Woodblock Painting

June 6, 2016


Born in the Asakusa section of Tokyo to a middle class family, Shiro Kasamatsu started his art studies at a young age. In 1911 (at the age of just 13) he became a student of Kaburagi Kiyokata, a master of the bijin-ga genre. Shiro studied Japanese style painting (Nihonga) but unlike his teacher, he concentrated on landscapes.

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Shiro’s paintings were shown at several prestigious exhibitions including the government sponsored Bunten, where they caught the eye of Watanabe Shozaburo, a Tokyo publisher. In 1919, Watanabe approached Shiro about designing woodblock prints. No doubt Kiyokata facilitated this introduction as he had done for several other students. Shiro’s first print, ‘A Windy Day in Early Summer’, (seen below top left) was published in that same year. He designed several landscape prints over the next few years, but the blocks for these were lost in the 1923 Kanto earthquake and as a result, they are now quite rare.

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Shiro resumed his work with Watanabe in the 1930’s. His designs were mainly of landscapes, but also included bijin-ga, interiors. Western collectors were especially attracted to his romantic landscapes depicting traditional Japanese life and landmarks. ‘Shinobazu Pond’, (above, bottom right) published in 1932, was so popular that it was continually reprinted throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was published in several different color combinations, including this aizuri-e (blue) version. In this print and many others, Shiro used foreground elements like branches to draw in the viewer and give the image depth. This was a design technique first originated by the ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige.

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In 1939, Shiro designed the series Eight Views of Tokyo, but only four prints were completed. His relationship with Watanabe was nearing a close, probably because Watanabe did not give him the creative control that he desired. Shiro was intrigued by the independence of sosaku hanga printmakers who carved and printed their own designs. After World War II, he stopped working with Watanabe. However, it would be nearly a decade before Shiro began producing his own prints.

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These prints taken from scenes around the traditional Japanese home, are beautifully simplistic and yet soothing as a result. As with many things Japanese, I find that they instill a sense of calm when you look at them.

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In the meantime, he established a short collaboration with Unsodo, a publisher in Kyoto, designing landscape and animal prints. Many of the prints published by Unsodo are quite striking and compare favorably with the Watanabe-published prints. By the late 1950’s, Shiro was ready to break out on his own. He began carving and printing his own designs in limited, numbered editions. He signed these prints himself in English. Some of his Watanabe-published prints also bear English signatures; however, these signatures were applied by Watanabe’s employees, not by the artist himself.

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Scenes of nature or seasonal themes are conjured up and depicted so beautifully here.

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Although Shiro’s self-made prints lack the refined carving of his shin hanga designs, they have a simplicity and expressiveness that is very appealing.

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Shiro’s animal prints either reveal creatures in their natural habitats, or more dramatically they are strongly depicted, with little, or no, background detail or distraction.

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Shiro continued to create prints for several decades, but never promoted them through exhibitions or gallery affiliations. As a result, his self-carved prints were more a labor of love than a commercial success. I do wonder if Shiro had designed Textiles or Wallpaper what they might have been like ?

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Many thanks to the Hanga Gallery for it’s information and illustrations, without whom, this post wouldn’t have been possible.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2016 1:49 pm

    The thing that strikes me about all of these prints is the strength of their compositions. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

    • June 6, 2016 2:46 pm

      Spot on again Laura, do you teach art by the way ? you have a keen eye. Thanks for your comments as usual.

      • June 6, 2016 7:19 pm

        I was a High School teacher but of English rather than Art. Art has just been a lifelong interest and hobby for me. I did teach my kids about History of Art last summer as a project but, no, I have never formally taught Art.

  2. June 6, 2016 4:23 pm

    I love your blog–it’s always so beautifully written, and you’ve opened up a world of artwork that I’d never have encountered otherwise. Shiro Kasamatsu’s art is breathtakingly beautiful. I hope that I might be able to find an affordable print of at least one of his creations.
    Thank you for writing this blog and sharing your love of art and design. I’m a fan! 😀

    • June 7, 2016 7:38 am

      Thank you for letting me know. Always great to hear when people who follow my blog finally say hello, really makes my day. I’m glad you are with me on my own journey of discovery.. let’s go together : )

  3. glynna permalink
    June 6, 2016 5:08 pm

    While viewing the prints of fish and the small birds in the tree,I considered how modern they were in design. Reminded me of Charley Harper’s works in a way…

    • June 7, 2016 7:36 am

      Thanks for your comment. Very contemporary feel to the work I agree and yes I can see a little Chalrley in there too : )

  4. June 7, 2016 1:10 am

    Who can make the snow look more beautiful and peaceful than the Japanese?

  5. June 7, 2016 2:08 pm

    So very lovely! Thanks for sharing

    Sent from my iPad


  6. June 7, 2016 9:30 pm

    The landscapes would be lovely to look at right before going to sleep and then I would have peaceful dreams.

    • June 8, 2016 7:55 am

      Print one out so you can fill your dream head with it prior to sleep. Who knows what Japanese landscapes you may wander into overnight ; )

      • June 8, 2016 5:13 pm

        Thanks Craig, I love your idea. I’ll be wrapped in a beautiful kimono, quietly padding along a moonlit path. Already, I am at peace.

  7. June 9, 2016 5:29 pm

    See how easy it is to travel… and so inexpensive too lol

  8. June 10, 2016 9:45 pm

    Wow, the detail and work that has gone into these is awe inspiring! Absolutely beautiful and I especially like the last one of the blossom.

  9. alibrookes permalink
    June 13, 2016 7:22 pm

    Beautiful and so skilfully executed! I love the print of the dog!

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