Hasui was born with the given name Bunjiro in Tokyo as the son of a merchant family. As a child Hasui learned to paint in Western style. His first teacher was Saburosuke Okada who taught him watercolor and oil painting.
His family was not very happy about his art ambitions and blocked him in many ways. They wanted Hasui to work in the family business. The conflict was solved when his sister married a shop employee and took over the business.
At the age of 26 Kawase tried to be accepted as a student by Kiyokata Kaburagi, a painter in traditional Japanese style. But Kaburagi considered him to be too old and rejected him. Kawase tried it again two years later and was finally accepted. Kiyokata soon recognized the talents of his student and introduced him to Watanabe Shozaburo. Kiyokata gave Hasui his artist's name in 1910. In 1916 he met the publisher Shozaburo Watanabe. In 1918 Hasui saw and was inspired by Ito Shinsui's "Eight Views of Lake Biwa" which were being shown at a Kyodokai exhibition. Hasui submitted sketches to Watanabe and so began the collaboration that started in 1918 and continued into the 1950s.
While the majority of his prints were published by Watanabe, Hasui also worked with Kawaguchi/Sakai between 1929 to 1932.
Collaboration with Watanabe Kawase had a tight and lifelong cooperation with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. Watanabe was the initiator and driving commercial force of the shin hanga movement. When traditional ukiyo-e printmaking was close to extinction, he commissioned Hasui, Shinsui, and for a short period Goyo and Hiroshi Yoshida to revive the traditional Japanese landscape and bijin prints. Watanabe's business idea was to target these prints at art lovers. Before, ukiyo-e was a kind of mass consumer product. In this function it had no chance against photography and by the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century it seemed to be doomed to disappear.
The artist, Hasui, created over one hundred woodblock prints between 1918 and 1923 - all published by Watanabe Shozaburo. Most of these "new style" prints were exported - mainly to the United States. On September 1, 1923, Japan was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in history. About 140,000 people died in the Kanto earthquake The center of the earthquake was in the Tokyo and Yokohama area.
Watanabe's print shop was destroyed by the fire and with it all of Kawase's print blocks. Also, the home of the artist and with it his sketchbooks were destroyed. Kawase and Watanabe had to start again from scratch.
The Style and Making of Hasui Prints Kawase was the master of landscape prints. Famous are his night scene prints and the designs showing snow fall or rain. Like no other artist he was capable of creating moods with his designs.
The artist's landscape prints hardly ever show people. Instead, a deserted street creates peaceful, but also strange and eerie feelings.
Hasui's working style is an additional explanation why his designs show rarely people. They were hard to sketch as they were not static.
Hasui was involved during the whole production process of cutting the blocks (one for each color plus a key block for the outlines). But the final product was the result of the teamwork of him, the carver, the printer and last but not least of the publisher. One can assume that especially Watanabe had rather distinctive ideas what a shin hanga should look like to sell well. Hasui himself commented that some of the prints looked better and some worse than his original sketches.
His Life and Personality Hasui was a small, short-sighted man. He had to wear thick eye-glasses. In order to sketch details he had to go close to an object. His life on the road was expensive. The artist never became rich, but he could make a living as a full-time printmaker. He had lost his home twice. First by the 1923 earthquake and then again by the air bombardments of Tokyo during world war II.
Hasui was described as a conservative, more retrograde personality. He preferred the kimono to a western suit and liked Japanese sake.
His last print, "Hall of the golden hue, Hiraizumi" was finished in 1957, the year of his death. Hasui was suffering from cancer and had supervised the early process of production from his hospital bed. But he was no longer able to see the final print. Watanabe distributed it to friends and acquaintances of the artist at the occasion of a memorial service for the deceased master of Japanese woodblock printmaking on March 6, 1958.
Collecting Kawase Hasui Prints Kawase Hasui prints are in high demand among collectors. Prices range from several hundred to thousands of dollars for prints from the pre-earthquake era and in some cases his famous snow and rain scenes. Apart from condition, which is always a paramount value factor, the price depends heavily on when the copy was printed. One can distinguish basically five edition periods: - Pre-earthquake period (before September 1923) - Pre-world war II until 1945 - After world war II from 1945 until his death in 1957 - Early posthumous printings from 1958 until 1988 - "Heisei editions" printed after 1989, the beginning of the Heisei period in the Japanese calendar. These editions were printed from the original blocks and were published by Watanabe Print Shop - meanwhile managed by the grandson of Watanabe Shozaburo. They are all hand-made, have usually no condition problems and prices are considerably lower compared to early pre-war editions.
The evaluation when a print was "pulled" is not a precise science, requires a lot of knowledge and experience and can often be made only with a rough "circa" dating. Heisei editions are easily recognizable by a special stamp.
Visions of Japan If you want to learn more about Kawase Hasui, we recommend the book "Visions of Japan", published by Hotei/Kit Publishers. Some of the information published on this page was taken from an article in this book by Kendall H. Brown titled "Poet of place: the life and art of Kawase Hasui". For a book review see Visions of Japan. The Complete Woodblock Prints
For art professionals and serious collectors of Hasui Kawase prints, there is a reference book available in two volumes with the copmplete works of the artist.
Kendall H. Brown with an essay by Watanabe Shoichiro. General Editor: Amy Reigle Newland. Catalogue Contributors: Inge Klompmakers, Merel Molenaar, Amy Reigle Newland, Okura Haruko, Dick N.W. Raatgever, Robert Schaap and Chris Uhlenbeck. ISBN: 90 74822 46 0, 592 pp., 617 colour & 131 b/w illustrations, published by Brill in 2003.