Early in the 20th century, publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) launched an effort to revitalize traditionally made woodblock prints. Watanabe sought to preserve the collaborative process (between publisher, designer, block-carvers and printers) while introducing updated subjects and styles that were commercially viable for a contemporary audience. He eventually coined the term shin-hanga, or "New Prints," for this artistic movement. Although shin-hanga has been criticized for its conservatism, and, until recently, under-recognized by art historians, it nevertheless represents one of the most successful trends in 20th-century Japanese art.
Watanabe worked with many designers, but developed a special relationship with Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), with whom he collaborated for nearly 40 years. Hasui excelled in capturing the atmospheric effects of rain, mist and snow, seasonal imagery, and evocative lighting in his nostalgic scenes of the vanishing traditional countryside. In this sense, Hasui can be considered a leading Japanese landscape artist of the 20th century, building upon the foundation established by predecessors like Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858).
On September 1, 1923, Tokyo was struck by a massive earthquake, devastating the city and killing more than 100,000 people. Both Hasui’s home and Watanabe’s studio were destroyed, resulting in the loss of most of the blocks used for Hasui’s print designs. For this reason, the prints produced by Watanabe and Hasui before the earthquake are now exceptionally rare. This exhibition focuses on Hasui's pre-earthquake prints, beginning with the artist's earliest designs and continuing through his first major series.