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Tagawa Ken (田川憲)

Minami-Yamate no. 10 (南山手10番)
Tagawa Ken saku (Work by Tagawa Ken: 田川憲作)
(1) Artist seal at lower right of image reading "Tagawa" (田川)
(2) Jikoku-jizuri seal (self-carved, self-printed:自刻 自摺) in lower left margin
Artist Proof (A.P.) in lower left margin*
(H x W)
Sôsaku hanga print
27.7 x 23.0 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; very faint tape residue marks in upper margin on verso
Price (USD/¥):
$675 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry (Ref #TGW02)

Tagawa Ken (田川憲 1906-1967), whose given name was Ken-ichi (憲一), was born in Nagasaki and graduated from the Nagasaki Business School in 1924. He moved to Tokyo, where in 1927 he met Onchi Kôshirô, who inspired him to learn woodblock printing. Also in Tokyo, he studied drawing and oil painting at the Kawabata Gagakkô ni Nyûgaku (Kawabata Painting School: 川端画学校に入学) starting in 1928. He made his first woodblock prints in 1932. Then, in 1934, Tagawa returned to Nagasaki, where he had his first solo exhibition of prints at the Nagasaki-kenritsu Nagasaki Toshokan (Nagasaki Prefectural Nagasaki Library: 長崎県立長崎図書館), published a collection of prints called Shinpan Nagasaki fûkei (Newly published views of Nagasaki: 新板長崎風景 see ref. below), and founded the Hanga Nagasaki no Kai (Nagasaki Print Association: 版画長崎の会). He was also directly involved in establishing and publishing Hanga Nagasaki (Nagasaki Prints: 版畫長崎), which appeared in February to August 1935, and again from July 1953 to January 1963 in six additional issues.

The port city of Nagasaki engaged in commerce with the West from the sixteenth century, first with the Portuguese, and then with the Dutch, before Japan was forced to open its borders in the 1850s under the so-called "gunboat diplomacy." Having been born and reared in Nagasaki, Tagawa's style and subject matter were influenced by the sensitivities of that city. Although he was a sôsaku hanga artist who was well aware of, and sometimes directly involved in, the creative art movement centered in Tokyo, he was also a printmaker whose subject matter was driven in large part by the particular history and cultural exchanges between Nagasaki and the West.

For more about this artist, see Tagawa Ken Biography.


Tagawa Ken TGW02 church photoThe modernist-realism in many of Tagawa's works, often executed with dark, narrow-range color palettes (brown, yellow, blue), was an effective mode for Tagawa's emotional response to the foreign influence in Nagasaki. There is a brooding stillness in the views of this type. Our print, known as Minami-Yamate no. 10 (南山手10番), is one such design.

Tagawa once lived in the building shown in the foreground (Minami-Yamate 10 ban-chô) from 1933 to 1938 when he left to serve in the Japanese army. Tagawa later recalled his atelier in this house, shared with a sculptor, which had a view of large trees and the port where Chinese trading ships would arrive to some fanfare twice a week. The previous tenant was Saint Maximillan Kolbe (1894-1941; Maksymilian Maria Kolbe [maksɨˌmʲilʲan ˌmarʲja ˈkɔlbɛ]), a Polish-born Conventual Franciscan Friar who sacrificed himself by volunteering to take the place of another man, a stranger named Franciszek Gajowniczek, at Auschwitz in 8/1941. On October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized Kolbe and declared him a martyr of charity.

The view in the present woodcut also shows the Ôura tenshudô (Ôura Catholic Church: 大浦天主堂) centrally situated behind some foreign residences. Also called the Nihon nijitsurokusei junkyôsha seidô (Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan: 日本二十六聖殉教者聖堂), the cathedral was designated a Kokuhô (National Treasure: 国宝) in 1933 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2018. Originally built in 1864, Ôura was then a small wooden church with three aisles and three octagonal towers. However, the present structure (the one in Tagawa's woodcut) is a much larger Gothic-style basilica completed around 1879 and built of white stuccoed brick with five aisles, vaulted ceilings, and one octagonal tower. It is the oldest surviving church in all of Japan. The cathedral was damaged by the atomic bomb on August 9, 1945; artifacts from the damage are in the Nagasaki Genbaku Shiryôkan (Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum: 長崎原爆資料館). See the photo on the right for a present-day photo (by "Tomio344456") of the church.

Minami-Yamate (Minami-yamate-machi) in the Nagasaki [Foreign] Settlement (Nagasaki kyoryûchi: 長崎居留地) features the type of nineteenth-century Western-style mansions that Tagawa admired, which appear in the foreground of his woodcut. Situated on a hillside, the district overlooks Nagasaki Bay. Today, there is a preservation center with exhibits about notable former residents of the foreign settlement. Said to have inspired the locale for Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, iconic Glover House also overlooks the harbor from a hillside garden (the Guraba-en: グラバー園), built for Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911), a Scottish merchant who contributed to the modernization of Japan in shipbuilding and coal mining. The Glover House is noted for its blend of Western and Japanese elements and is an example of "Treaty Port" building. It is the also oldest Western-style house surviving in Japan and Nagasaki's foremost tourist attraction.

*Note: There is some confusion about what Tagawa meant by "A.P." when stamped on his prints. Typically, such a designation would indicate "Artist Proof." However, it has been suggested that in Tagawa's case, "A.P." might mean "After Printing," that is, an impression taken by the artist after the initial run. Alternatively, Tagawa might have meant that "A.P." designated a printing by his wife, Akiko. We have no definitive evidence to support either interpretation and thus continue to accept the meaning of "Artist Proof."

Works by Tagawa Ken can be found in various public institutions, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Honolulu Museum of Art; and Nagasaki Prefectural Museum of Art.


  • Chiba-shi Bijutsukan (Chiba City Art Museum: 千葉市美術館): Nihon no hanga 1931-1940 (Japanese prints 1931-1940), Vol. IV, 2004, nos. 28-1 and 28-2.
  • Merritt, Helen, and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 141, 203.
  • Tagawa Ken: Shinpan Nagasaki fûkei (Newly published views of Nagasaki: 新板長崎風景), 1935 [collection of original woodcuts].
  • Tagawa Ken hangashû: Nagasaki shijô (Tagawa Ken — Collected Prints, Nagasaki Poetry 田川憲 版画集 長崎詩帖), 1953 [collection of poems and original woodcuts].
  • Zehnder, Amanda: Modern Japanese Prints: The Twentieth Century. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, 2009. p. 168.