Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, whose given name was Hideo, was born and worked in Kobe, an international port city that inspired much of his subject matter. He was employed as a postmaster, but his ancestors were merchants, particularly traders in several alcoholic spirits, sake (酒 or nihonshu 日本酒), mirin (味醂), and shôchû (焼酎), which they transported to Tokyo in their fleet of ships. Kawanishi's family opposed his becoming involved in painting and printmaking. A self-taught artist, Kawanishi started painting in oils, but turned to woodblock printmaking after seeing a print by Yamamoto Kanae (A small bay in Brittany) displayed in a shop window in Osaka. He was not interested in ukiyo-e, although Nagasaki-e naturally fascinated him, with its exotic ships and foreign traders. Gradually abandoning oils, Kawanishi fell under the influence of the Art Deco poster style of the 1920s and first exhibited prints in 1923 with the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association 日本創作版画協会 founded 1918). Other influences were Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二), Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎), Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎), and European artists such as Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Leger, and Matisse.
Kawanishi used poster colors and sumi (Japanese carbon black, i.e., soot, water, and glue), cutting his blocks with a curved chisel to obtain soft edges. He used katsura or ho wood, and printed on hodomura paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (possibly as many as 1,000), as well as printed albums and books, and sets or series. The latter included Shôwa bijin fûzoku jûnitai (Twelve customs of beauties from the Shôwa era), 1929; Kobe jûnigagetsu fûkei (Scenes of Kobe during the twelve months), 1931; and Hanga Kobe hyakkei (Prints of one hundred views of Kobe), 1935. Kawanishi was awarded the Hyôgo Prefecture Culture Prize (1949) and the Kobe Shinbun Peace Prize (1962). His son Kawanishi Yûzaburô (1923-2014) worked in his father's style, but with more international subjects.
For more about this artist, see Kawanishi Biography.
Hyūga is the former province located in present-day Miyazaki Prefecture, which includes the island of Aoshima. This is the site of the Aoshima-jinja (青島神社), a small Shinto shrine dedicated to a mythological ancestor of the Japanese emperors called Hikohohodemi, as well as the goddess Toyotama-hime and the sea deity Shiozuchi-no-ôkami. The entire island is designated a national nature monument with more than 200 species of plants, including 27 that are tropical or subtropical, making it the northernmost palm-family colony in the Northern Hemisphere.
Kawanishi depicted the path leading up to the entrance of the shrine, focusing on the verdant palm leaves on either side of the walkway. It is a bright sunny day with stark shadows cast on the ground. The red-and-white railings in the foreground are echoed by the railing in the middle distance, seen through the entrance doorway. The shrine itself is not visible. (For a view of the shrine, see the photo on the right.)
The print title Hyûga Aoshima (日向青島) is given in the blue cartouche at the lower left beside the signature and artist seal. The series title Shin Nihon hyakkei (New 100 scenes of Japan: 新日本百景) is printed in the top right margin, while the print society / publishing group Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association: 日本洋画協會) is named in the lower left margin. Shin Nihon hyakkei was a collaborative series self-published by members of the association in 1938-1941, when 39 prints by 32 different artists were issued before publication ceased due to the Pacific War. Other print designs were completed but not released in the series.
This woodcut is typical of Kawanishi's pre-war style, with its bright, unmodulated poster colors and richly detailed composition. The palm leaves vault across the pictorial space, each shape clearly rendered not by traditional black keyblock outlines, but by the green and blue colors that are primary elements of the design. Added to these forms are the red, yellow, and white punctuations of other flora.
- D'Orlando, A., de Vries, M, Uhlenbeck, C. and Wessels, E.: Nostalgia and Modernity: The Styles of Komura Settai and Kawanishi Hide. Amsterdam: Nihon no Hanga, spring 2012 (exhibition cat.).
- Kawanishi Hide, Gashû "Kôbe hyakkei" Kawanishi Hide ga aishita fûkei (Collected pictures, "100 Scenes of Kobe," favorite scenes of Kawanishi Hide: 画集『神戸百景』川西英が愛した風景), 2008.
- Kobe City Koiso Memorial Museum of Art: (Kawanishi Hide, the retrospective. 120th anniversary of his birth (Kobe shiritsu Koiso kinen bijutsukan, 神戸市立小磯記念美術館), Kawanishi hide kaiko ten — Seitan ichihyakunijû nen (川西回顧展 生誕120年). Kobe: 2014, no. 73.
- Uhlenbeck, C., Newland, A.R., de Vries, M.: Waves of renewal: modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960, Selections from the Nihon no hanga collections, Amsterdam. Hotei Publishing, 2016, pp. 240-246.