Yoshikawa Kanpô (吉川観方; given name Kenjirô), 1894-1979, was born in Kyoto made his name as a Nihonga-style painter and writer, as well as a stage designer and advisor to the Shôchiku kabuki theatrical company in Kyoto. He studied Nihonga painting with Nishibori Tôsui (dates unknown) beginning in 1901 and later with Takeuchi Seihô (1864-1942). By the time he graduated with honors from the Kyoto Specialist School of Painting in 1918 and a graduate degree in 1920 from the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting, he had already begun exhibiting with the Bunten in 1917. Evetually stopped exhibiting paintings, but continued to accept commissions while also briefly designing Shin Hanaga-style woodblock prints, among these a famous series of actor portraits published by Satô Shôtarô between 1922 and 1924, and apparently ceased making any more prints after 1925. He also produced landscapes (fûkeiga) and pictures of beautiful women (bijinga). Yoshikawa then concentrated on other pursuits, including playing the biwa (琵琶) and kokyû (胡弓). He authored several books on topics such as kabuki, Japanese dolls, and Japanese customs (including Faces in color prints, Contemporary actors on stage, Collected famous treasured dolls, Mirrors and designs, History of changes in sash design, and History of Japanese folk customs) and two illustrated volumes on ghosts (1925).
Shôutsushi asagao nikki (Recreating the true diary of morning glory: 生写朝顔日記) is a romantic tale about Asagao ("Morning Glory"), the young daughter of a wealthy samurai who flees her family after mistakenly believing she will be forced to abandon her lover Asojirô and marry a stranger. Unknown to Asagao, the "stranger" happens to be Asojirô, whose name was changed to Komazawa 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 (琴) at an inn. One day she encounters her lover by chance, who sees that she is now destitute and blind from tears and grief. Suddenly he is called away by his lord and Miyuki despairs, running after him in a fierce storm. Unable to cross the river, she is ready to throw herself into the raging water, but is stopped by a retainer of her father. Miyuki ultimately regains her sight after curing her blindness with a drug left for her by Asojirô.
Kanpô's mica-ground design is a poignant portrayal of the blind Miyuki as she adjusts the plectra on her fingers as she prepares to play for Asojirô. Kanpô's manner of drawing her closed eyes is reminiscent of traditional ukiyo-e depictions of zatô (座頭 blind masseurs and musicians), effectively suggesting Miyuki's blindness. Kanpô's design subtlety expresses the two-fold nature of the onnagata (女方 or 女形 "woman's manner," that is, the male actor of female kabuki roles) in its "female likeness" (女らしさ onna-rashisa) aligned with a "masculine" strength. The restrained elegance of Kanpô's style distinguishes it from the work of other shin hanga artists and is perhaps a reflection of his Kyoto origins.
Impressions of this design are in many of the major museums around the world, including The Art Institute of Chicago (1939.1587, ex-Frederick Gookin Collection); Toledo Museum of Art (1939.412); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (38.712); British Museum (1981,1021,0.6); and the National Gallery of Australia.
Although not indicated on the print, the 1930 Toledo catalog (*) states that the carver of this design was Maeda [Kentarô] and the printer Ôiwa [Tokuzô].
References: Amy Reigle Stephens (ed.), The New Wave: Twentieth-century Japanese prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 1993, no. 216; Toledo Museum of Art, Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints, 2013, no. 336; Kendall Brown and Hollis Goodall-Cristante, Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan, 1996, figs.30-32, cat. 4A-C; Lawrence Smith, Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, no. 42 (plate 43, British Museum impression); * Toledo Museum of Art, A Special Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints. 1930, no. 329.