|Kasamatsu Shiro, 1952
(In his studio with a preliminary watercolor
of Asakusa Kannondô dai chôchin)
Kasamatsu Shirô (笠松紫浪 1898-1991), 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.
While 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, an ôban (365 × 240 mm) woodcut done in a freely sketched manner, capturing the quality of the original watercolor or painting (see link at bottom of this page).
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).
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. Two designs by Kasamatsu that are often reproduced in books about shin hanga were published in the year 1934. One of these, shown above right, is Kasamatsu's 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, which had continued 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 (with the Watanabe "lozenge" publisher's seal in the lower right margin, as in the impression shown here) was included in the 1936 Toledo Museum exhibition. That show's catalog states that about 20 blocks and 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. 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.
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. Moreover, there is an appealing authenticity in the restrained chromatic range and rhythmically arranged shapes often adopted by Kasamatsu.
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.
- Abe, Shûichi (阿部秀一): Kasamatsu Shirô zen mokuhan gashû (Kasamatsu Shirô: Complete Woodblock Prints: 笠松紫浪 全木版画集). Tokyo: Abe Publishing, 2021 (Intro. by Hirabayashi Akira 平林彰, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, 山梨県立美術館学芸).
- National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo: Catalogue of Collections [Modern Prints] (Tokyo kokuritsu kindai bijutsukan shozô-hin mokuroku, 東京国立近代美術館所蔵品目録). 1993, nos. 672-725.
- Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old dreams and new visions. London: British Museum Press, 1983, pp. 86 and 99, no. 80.
- Swinton, Elizabeth de Sabato: Terrific Tokyo: A Panorama in Prints from the 1860s to the 1930s. Worchester Art Museum, 1999), p. 38, no. 8.
- Toledo Museum of Art: A Special Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo, Ohio: 1936, no. 173.
The information given here about Kasamatsu Shiro is based on John Fiorillo's web page: