Kawase Hasui Biography

Kawase Hasui




Shin-hanga artist Kawase Hasui was born as Kawase Bunjiro in Tokyo, Japan on May 18, 1883.

From youth Kawase Bunjiro dreamed of an art career, he received help in studying painting in 1897 from Aoyanagi Bokusen and in 1902 from Araki Kan'yu but his parents had him take on the family silk braiding and thread wholesaling business. Its bankruptcy when he was 26 freed him to pursue art.

He approached Kiyokata Kaburagi to teach him, but Kaburagi, instead encouraged him to study Western-style painting, which he did with Okada Saburōsuke for two years. Two years later he again applied as a student to Kaburagi, who this time accepted him and later gave him the name Hasui. Here Hasui studied ukiyo-e and mainly concentrated on making watercolors of actors, everyday life and landscapes, many of them published as illustrations in books and magazines in the last few years of the Meiji period and early Taishō period

After seeing an exhibition of Shinsui Ito's Eight Views of Lake Biwa Hasui approached Shinsui's publisher Shozaburō Watanabe, who had Hasui make three experimental prints that Watanabe published in August 1918.The series Twelve Views of Tokyo, Eight Views of the Southeast, and the first Souvenirs of Travel of 16 prints followed in 1919, each issued two prints at a time.

Hasui's twelve-print A Collection of Scenes of Japan begun in 1922 went unfinished when the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake destroyed both Hasui’s house as well as Watanabe's workshop, including the finished woodblocks for the yet-undistributed prints and Hasui's sketchbooks. Watanabe then financed him to go on a sketching trip to produce more series. Hasui travelled the Hokuriku, San'in, and San'yo regions later in 1923 and upon his return in February 1924 developed his sketches into his third Souvenirs of Travel series.

During the Pacific War, during which he lost his home in Tokyo a second time from airstrikes, he spent much time back in Shiobara. After the war he was used by the Government to represent a gentler side of Japan in tourist publications, and in 1953 his 'Zojoji in Snow' was commissioned as an 'Intangible Cultural Asset' to represent the co-operative skills of the traditional print method. During his career he produced over 600 landscape prints, including seventeen series, covering most areas of Japan, which he constantly travelled.

During the forty years of his artistic career, Hasui worked closely with Shozaburo Watanabe, publisher and advocate of the shin-hanga movement. His works became widely known in the West through American connoisseur Robert O. Muller. In 1956, he was named a Living National Treasure in Japan.

Kawase Hasui died in Japan on November 7, 1957 after a battle with cancer.