Hiratsuka Un'ichi (平塚運一 1895-1997), born in Matsue, Honshû, was a preeminent leader of the sôsaku hanga (creative print: 創作版画) movement whose influence was widespread and profound. He first exhibited prints in 1916 at the Nika-kai (Second Division Society). Starting in 1928, he taught or influenced many artists, including Munakata Shikô (1903-1975). From 1935 to 1944, Hiratsuka taught the first block-printing course sanctioned at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, representing a seminal moment in the recognition of printmaking as a serious art form in Japan. After moving to Washington, D.C. in 1962, he spent 33 years in the U.S., where three presidents commissioned prints from him depicting American national landmarks. While still in the U.S., Hiratsuka became the first printmaker to be awarded the Order of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government in 1970. The Hiratsuka Un'ichi Print Museum opened in Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture in 1991. He returned to Japan in 1994.
For more about this artist, see Hiratsuka Un'ichi Biography.
Ohara Beach (Ôhara kaisuiyoku-ba: 大原海水浴場), a popular resort, is located in Isumi, Chiba prefecture, southeast of Tokyo. The outcroppings of grass-covered rock are delicately printed in the upper areas, in contrast to a dynamic use of vertical and diagonal cross-hatching on the foreground promontory, an effect achieved with the carving knife cutting through the many horizontal strokes of brown pigment to evoke a weathered, faceted rock-face. The ocean water is printed with expressive texturing set against simplified white-capped waves made by gauging with a curved chisel to "scoop out" shapes not to be printed with colorants.
Our impression matches the one held by the Art Institute of Chicago, including the delicate printing of a patch of blue in the sky and a rosy red along the horizon line. Our impression appears to have been printed before or around the Second World War. All in all, this is a fine example of Hiratsuka's block-cutting and color-printing methods for designs made early in the Showa (昭和) period (1926-1989). As an added bonus, the original folder is included with our impression (see image at right). It reads (right to left): Minamiwan mika (South Bay Seascape: 南湾海景), Hiratsuka Un'ichi saku (Work by Hiratsuka Un'ichi: 平塚運一作), and Nihon Hanga Sha (Japan Print Association: 日本版画社).
It is interesting to note that Yoshida Hiroshi also designed a print with a view of "Ohara Beach [Coast]" (Ohara Kaigan: 大原海岸) around the same time (1928; see Ogura ref. below).
Works by Hiratsuka are held in many public institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Cincinnati Art Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Honolulu Museum of Art; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- Art Institute of Chicago, reference no. 1998.132.
- Ogura, Tadao, et al.: Yoshida Hiroshi zenbon hangashû (Complete woodblock prints of Yoshida Hiroshi). Tokyo: Abe Shuppan, 1987, p. 96, no. 106
- Merritt, Helen and Jesse, Bernd: Hiratsuka: Modern Master. Art Institute of Chicago, 2001.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Tuttle: VT, 1956, pp. 35-44.
- Zehnder, Amanda, Modern Japanese Prints: The Twentieth Century. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, 2009, pp. 44-50.