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.
Baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872 with the first professional competitions emerging in the 1920s. Today, the sport is Japan's most popular participatory and spectator sport. The elite level of professional baseball (Puro Yakyû, プロ野球) can be found in Nippon Yakyû Kikô (Nippon Professional Baseball, NPB: 日本野球機構), comprising two leagues — the Central League and the Pacific League, each with six teams. Its roots can be traced back to the formation of the Dai-Nippon Tokyo Yakyû Kurabu ("Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club": 大日本東京野球倶楽部) in Tokyo, founded in 1934 and reorganized in 1950. Today, league play includes an annual season-ending Japan Series championship play-off series.
In addition to the design offered here, Kawanishi produced another baseball scene titled Kôshien yakyû taikai ("Baseball games at Kôshige Stadium": 甲子園野球大会), number 18 in his series Hyôgo hyakkei (One hundred scenes of Hyôgo: 兵庫百景) commissioned by the newspaper Kobe Shinbun in 1963. The woodcut is quite amusing, as no fewer than seven players frantically chase a pop fly (see Kobe City ref. below). All the designs in Hyôgo hyakkei, one by one, appeared in 100 consecutive Sunday-evening editions of the paper. Hanshin Kôshien Stadium (Hanshin Kôshien Kyûjô: 阪神甲子園球場) is a baseball park near Kobe in Nishinomiya, Hyôgo Prefecture. Opened on August 1, 1924, it was the largest stadium in Asia at the time, with a capacity of 55,000.
Kawanishi's design, titled Shinpan yakyû sugata (Newly published baseball figures: 新板野球すがに) as shown here depicts a wide view of a game along the top with a pitcher about to throw to a batter. Below are nine small figures representing a team's defensive positions, all captured at moments of action. These baseball-card-like images are simple but effective in the manner of quick sketches, a stylistic choice that is frequently encountered in the works of Kawanishi Hide.
Baseball images in sôsaku hanga are quite rare, so our Kawanishi design affords an opportunity for the savvy collector to acquire a scarce sheet.
- 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 (N.B. no. 231-6, p. 137).
- 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.