Ishii Hakutei (石井柏亭 1882-1958), whose given name was Mankichi (満吉), was born in Shitaya, Tokyo, the son of the Nihonga (Japanese-style picture: 日本画) painter Ishii Teiko (石井鼎湖 1848-1897). His younger brother was the painter, sculptor, and printmaker Ishii Tsuruzô (石井鶴三 1887-1973). In 1895 Hakutei became a block-carving trainee at the printing offices of the Finance Ministry. Then, in 1898, he studied with the pioneer yôga (Western-style painting: 洋画) artist Asai Chû (浅井忠 1856-1907). When Asai left for Europe in 1899, Ishii received further instruction from the yôga painter Nakamura Fusetsu (中村不折 1866-1943). In 1904, Ishii's enrolled for less than a year in the department of yôga at the Tokyo Bijutsu Gakkô (Tokyo School of Fine Arts: 東京美術学校) under Kuroda Seiki (黒田清輝 1866-1924) and Fujishima Takeji (藤島武二 1867-1943).
Ishii was a pivotal figure in sôsaku hanga ("creative prints": 創作版画). In 1904 he published in the art magazine Myôjô ("Morning star”: 明星, 1900-1908) what is widely acknowledged to be the first sôsaku hanga print — Gyofu (Fisherman: 漁夫) by Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎 1882-1946). He also joined Yamamoto in founding the dôjin zasshi (coterie magazine: 同人雑誌) art periodical Hôsun ("One's Ideas" or "Square Inch," 方寸, 35 issues, 1907-11). Furthermore, Ishii promoted sôsaku hanga through his participation in several art and literary groups including the Pan no Kai (Pan Society: パンの会 circa 1908-1912), a name inspired by the German cultural periodical Pan. Its members were writers, poets, artists, and actors in Tokyo who gathered together informally to discuss strategies for the reform and revitalization of Japanese art, literature, and theater, and to socializing over European food, wine, coffee, and music. The society played an important role by promoting wider knowledge of Western-style artistic modernism.
Although Ishii had learned block carving, he never achieved great skill in the craft. Aside from self-carving and self-printing a design depicting Tokyo's floating lumber yards at Kiba in 1914, he relied on professional carvers to render his designs into woodcuts. In 1915, Ishii contributed five small-format prints, one cover, and one fold-out portraying kabuki actors to the magazine Shin nigao ("New likenesses: 新似顔). Another collaboration involved the series Nihon fûkei hanga (Prints of Japanese scenes: 日本風景版画) in 1917-1918, for which Ishii contributed three sets of five prints each, the most among all six artists.
Otherwise, for much of his career, Ishii concentrated on painting, exhibiting with the official government-sponsored salon or Bunten (Exhibition: 文展), shorthand for the Monbushô Bijutsu Tenrankai (Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition: 文部省美術展覧会). He also contributed paintings to exhibitions held by the Japan Arts Exhibition (日本美術展覧会, Nihon bijutsu tenrankai, or simply Nitten 日展), for which Ishii went on to become the chief judge of the yôga section. In December 1958, just before his death, the government awarded Ishii the Kyokujitsu-shô (Order of the Rising Sun: 旭日章).
In 1910, Hakutei began designing a series of prints called Tokyo jûnikei (Twelve views of Tokyo: 東京十二景). Each print features a geisha dressed in ordinary kimono situated in front of (and partly obscuring) a koma-e (inset picture: 駒絵). Each inset depicts a particular modern Tokyo district. This compositional device was likely derived from various nineteenth-century ukiyo-e prints incorporating koma-e. The first two designs, Yoshichô (よし町 [芳町]) and Yanagibashi (柳ばし [柳橋]), were completed in 1910 before Ishii traveled to Europe. Another seven prints were published after his return to Japan, beginning in 1914, with the last two (Shibaura, 芝うら [芝浦] and Akasaka, 赤さか [赤坂]) probably finished in 1916 or 1917. Although twelve designs were planned, only nine were issued. It might have been that the combination of the traditional geisha with what was then modern scenes of Tokyo did not win over many customers, forcing the cancellation of the series.
The series was produced in shin hanga ("new prints": 新版画) fashion, with Ishii supplying the original sketches and supervising the artisans who produced the prints. Ishii's friend, the highly skilled Igami Bonkotsu (伊上凡骨 1877-1933), carved the blocks and Nishimura Kumakichi (西村熊吉) printed the designs. The first two designs were published by the poet and sculptor Takamura Kôtarô (高村光太郎 1883-1956), who had studied in the U.S. and Europe. Takamura was an enthusiastic supporter of sôsaku hanga and avant-garde European ideas. Yoshichô and Yanagibashi were issued in 1910 through Takamura's ground-breaking picture gallery Rôkandô (琅玗洞 the first private multi-media modern art gallery in Japan). The remaining seven known print designs were published in 1914-17 by Nakajima Jûtarô (中島重太郎) for the firm Yanagiya Shoten (柳家書店, or Seikadô 青果堂). Nakajima also published second editions of Yoshichô and Yanagibashi in 1914.
The real-life female model for this design is said to be the geisha Gorômaru (五郎丸). She is shown before a detail of Yoshichô (芳町) in Nihonbashi (日本橋), which was once a thriving hanamachi ("flower town": 花街) or geisha district situated in the heart of Tokyo. The canal visible in Ishii's design was replaced by landfill in 1972. The area was a popular starting point for sightseeing trips linking up with the Sumida River. The geisha in this area were considered stylish, lively, and skilled at their trade. The name Yoshichô remains today as a designation for one of the six most-esteemed geisha districts in contemporary Tokyo.
In August of 1910, Ishii used the Yoshichô design for an advertisement of his Tokyo series in Hôsun (see image below). At the top right the names of the artist and block carver are indicated, and then the series title. In the long text on the left of the picture, Ishii claimed that the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e print had lost its original creative function and had become merely a means of reproducing images, thereby endangering the survival of the genre. However, with the publication of Tokyo jûnikei, he was attempting to recapture the essentials of the Japanese woodcut in a modern idiom. In effect, Ishii was offering a way toward revitalizing woodcuts through a neo-ukiyo-e art form.
|Ishii Hakutei: Advertisement for the series Tokyo jûnikei in the magazine Hôsun, August 1910 issue
Note 1: Our impression is from the original 1910 edition published by Takamura Kôtarô; it is not the 1914 second printing issued by Nakajima Jûtarô. The print is full size and in very good condition.
Note 2: There was also a posthumous edition of all nine designs (100 sets?) issued circa mid-1980s by Ishukanko-kai (遺珠刊行会) in Tokyo. Each print has extensive information about the publisher, carver, printer, and so on inscribed in a wide margin, and includes the Ishukanko-kai red "money-bag" seal. These impressons were re-carved by Itô Susumu (伊藤進 1916-98) and printed by Watanabe Yoshiaki (渡辺義明). Ishukanko-kai is known for high-quality recuts of shin hanga, including designs by Hashiguchi Goyo (橋口五葉 1880-1921), Yamamura Kôka (山村耕花 1885-1942 or Toyonari 豊成 1885-1942), Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (小早川清 1898-1948), and Torii Kotondo (鳥居言人 1900-1976).
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- Newland, Amy Reigle and Hamanaka, Shinji: The Female Image: 20th century prints of Japanese beauties. Leiden: 2000, p. 33, no. 1.
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