fan crest   title
Home •  Recent Update •  Sales Gallery •  Archives
Articles •  Varia •  Glossary •  Biographies •  Bibliography
Search •  Video •  Contact Us •  Conditions of Sale •  Links

Biography: MAEKAWA Senpan (前川千帆)

Photo of Nakagawa Isaku
Maekawa Senpan carving a block

Maekawa Senpan signature


Maekawa Senpan 1960 ranpuMaekawa Senpan (前川千帆 1888-1960), whose original name was Ishida Shigezaburô (石田重三郎), was born in Kyoto. He was the son of a shopkeeper and the younger brother of a minor print artist, Asaga Manjirô (1885-1965). He studied at the Kansai Bijutsu-in (Kansai Fine Art Academy) starting in 1905, at first with Asai Chû (1856-1907), then with Kanokogi Takeshirô. After moving to Tokyo in 1911, he began a long career as a cartoonist for the monthly magazine "Tokyo Puck" (Tokyo pakku, 東京パック 1905-1912).

After returning from a sojourn in Korea 1915-17, he resumed his cartoon work, this time for the newspaper Yomiuri shinbun (読売新聞 founded in 1874). In that paper he made a reputation as the creator of a cartoon series featuring a clumsy bear named Awatemono no Kumasan ("Hasty Bear"). Maekawa's other cartoons also appeared in one of the most successful pre-World War II manga publications, the Yomiuri Sandê Manga (Yomiuri Sunday Cartoon: 讀賣サンデー漫画).

In Maekawa's single-sheet woodcuts, there is an assimilated persistence of the drawing style derived from his book illustration and cartooning. His figures from everyday life often appear adapted from long-standing Kyoto-Osaka genres, including Maruyama (円山) and Shijô (四条) art, and are perhaps reminiscent in intention, even if in a modern idiom, of many lively, free-wheeling sketches and caricatures by a long list of artists from both Kyoto and Edo, such as Ki Baitei (紀楳亭 1744-1810), Matsuya Nichôsai (松屋耳鳥齋 c. 1751-c. 1803), Yamaguchi Soken (山口素絢 1759-1818), Aoi Shûho (葵秋圃 1768-1859), Nishimura Nantei (西村楠亭 1775–1834), Satô Suiseki (佐藤水石 act. c. 1806-1840), and Ônishi Chinnen (大西椿年 1792-1851). There is a purposeful and charming artlessness in Maekawa's figure drawing — simplicity, stylized naturalism, and cheerfulness often characterize his work.

The collector and author Oliver Statler reported (Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, 1956) on one of the block-cutting methods used by Maekawa, who started with a "fairly free drawing, which he doesn't allow to restrict him as he carves. He pastes the drawing on the wood and cuts the block for thr basic color. He makes an impression of this block and pastes it on wood as a guide in cutting the block for another color. In this way he is sure that his blocks will match up."

Maekawa began printmaking after viewing an exhibition of prints by Minami Kunzô (南薫造 1883-1950) in 1911, whereupon he was inspired to take up self-carved woodblock printing (sôsaku hanga), which he taught himself over a ten-year period. Maekawa exhibited for the first time with the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association: 日本創作版画協会 founded 1918) starting in 1919, and he was a founding member and frequent exhibitor with the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japanese Print Association: 日本版画協会) from 1931, the year it was founded, until his death in 1960. By around 1953, Maekawa became successful enough to earn his living primarily from woodcut printmaking and book illustration, although as it was for much of sôsaku hanga in the early years, many specific prints did not often sell well and he made few copies of most of his works (some were printed by others at later dates).

One of Maekawa's works was included in the deluxe limited-edition portfolio (510 required impressions of each design submitted by the ten selected artists in the competition). Orgainzed and authored by the writer and collector James Michener in 1962, the portfolio was called The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation. Shown above right, Maekawa's woodcut is titled Ranpu (Lamp: ランプ). Maekawa said this about his submission: "In this print I fetched from my choldhood memories of autumn days one of the lamps that we used to use and then perched an autumn insect on it." As for Maekawa the printmaker, Michener said: "He was an artist with a feminine approach to life, indifferent to the tides of modernism that have swept his colleagues, and content to look lovingly at the village aspects of a land and a society that he obviously loved."

Works by Maekawa Senpan are in many institutional collections, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Museum of Asian Art (Smithsonian), Washington, DC; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum, OR; and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The text provided here is based in large part on John Fiorillo's web page: