Sanzo Wada Biography

Sanzo Wada




Sanzo Wada, painter and printmaker, was born in Hyogo prefecture, Japan, on March 3, 1883, the son of a government-appointed physician. Despite the protests of his family, Wada left school at age sixteen to study Western painting, first under the mentorship of famed painter Kuroda Seiki and then his White Horse Society school, and finally enrolling at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, where he studied Western style painting and art theory. Following his graduation in 1904, he focused on his classical oil paintings of Japanese daily life. in 1908 he earned a sponsorship from the government to travel to Europe, where he remained until 1914 studying the work of European artists. It was in France that he met fellow Japanese artist Yamamoto Kanae, credited with creating Sosaku hanga, who introduced Wada to woodblock printmaking.

After returning to Tokyo, Wada began exhibiting reularly, including at state-sponsored art shows in Bunten and Teiten. He also pioneered what would be called the 
Sanzo Wada Dictionary of Color Combinations, a color theory for Japanese artists that was upheld by the Japan Standard Color Association, and which is still in use today under the Japan Color Research Institute. From 1927 on Sanzo Wada taught at Tokyo School of Fine Arts and in that same year he was appointed a member of the Imperial Arts Academy. 

In the 1920s in Japan a rising, aggressive nationalistic stance was taken by the government to bolster support for its occupations of Korea and China. Artists were often expected to create pro-Japan propoganda from the early 1930s until the country's entrance into World War II, and in the 1920s Wada began creating Japanese-style paintings. His extensive militaristic illustrations and depictions of Japanese daily life established him as a representative of Japanese culture, both before and after the war.  

Among collectors of Japanese prints Sanzo Wada is mainly known for his series of Japanese woodblock prints depicting traditional and modern occupations in Japan. The series was started in 1938 under the title Showa Shokugyo E-zukushi - Sketches of Occupations in Showa Era - published by Nishinomiya Shoin. The series was stopped in 1943 during the Pacific war and was continued in 1954 (until 1958) under the new title Zoku Showa Shokugyo E-zukushi - Continuing Sketches of Occupations in Showa Era. This continuation was published by the original publisher's new company, now re-opened as Kyoto Hanga-in. The first part consists of 48 prints, the second part, published after the Pacific war, has 24 designs. Of note is Wada's ability to create woodcuts that looked like watercolors, with gradual gradations of color and undelineated edges. 

In the 1950s Sanzo Wada designed theater and film costumes. He even received the American Motion Picture Academy Award in 1955 for costume designs for the film "Gates of Hell". In 1958 Sanzo Wada received the order of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government. He died in Japan on August 22, 1967.

Museum Collections

  • Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan.
  • Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan.
  • Mizuta Museum of Art, Japan.
  • The British Museum, London, UK.
  • The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan.
  • USC Pacific Asia Museum, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA.

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