July 19, 2013

Hasui in the Moonlight

        The artist, Kawase Hasui (Japan, 1883-1957), described the location of this woodblock print as giving "an impression of eternal and infinite beauty," and I absolutely agree with him.  At least, I've never seen Matsushima Bay on the northeast coast of Japan, but this certainly is a beautiful print.
        Hasui was among a group of printmakers trying to meld traditional Japanese woodblock themes with a more modern aesthetic.  (Of course "modern" is now about a hundred years old!)  There definitely is something more personal about this piece compared with older Japanese woodblock prints, something softer, more three-dimensional, less staid and rigid.  There's a little more of a look of Monet here.
        There's also something really interesting going on in the sky, which has clearly not been inked in the smooth traditional way.  I don't know how Hasui achieved this effect, whether through inking with smaller brushes, or some sort of ink stick, or whether the texture was applied to the paper after printing with something more like cray-pas or pastels…  But I like it.  It adds just the right amount of movement to keep a peaceful scene from becoming static.
        Hasui went on to write of this piece, "I regret my inability to do justice to this ideal subject," but I think he wasn't giving himself sufficient credit.  I think he captures a wonderful mood of beauty, romance, mystery, and serenity.

[Picture: Matsushima in the Moonlight, woodblock print by Kawase Hasui, 1919 (Image from the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery).]

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