Maeda Masao (前田政雄 1904-1974) was born in Hakodate City, Hokkaido, wanted to be an artist from an early age. His aspirations were heightened in 1923 when he met Hiratsuka Un'ichi at an exhibition in Hakodate. Maeda moved to Tokyo in 1925 where he attended the Kawabata Ga-Gakkô (founded in 1909), a private painting school headed by the Shijô-style (naturalistic) artist Kawabata Gyokusho (1842-1913). He eventually became dissatisfied with the instruction there and went on to study yôga (Western-style painting: 洋画) with the eminent and influential painter Umehara Ryûzaburô (梅原龍三郎 1888-1986), who also happened to know Hiratsuka. Maeda lived near Hiratsuka and visited often, providing him with opportunities to observe Hiratsuka carve blocks and make prints. Maeda picked up some printmaking techniques in this way and was soon designing and making his own hanga (woodcuts or block prints: 版画). All told, the influence of Hiratsuka proved to be significant for Maeda, especially in the manner of carving his designs and printing from the blocks, and in rendering the light-and-dark values.
Early on, line-work was paramount, but as Maeda's style evolved, more massive forms, frequently without keyblock outlines, appeared along with denser colors. Often, he used cardboard blocks for shading. Landscapes would prove to be Maeda's favored subject, although he did design occasional figure studies and still lifes.
Maeda also assisted Hiratsuka with the administration of the print division of the Kokugakai (National Painting Association: 国画会), including organizing exhibitions of modern hanga. He later became associated with Hiratsuka's circle of artists, called the Yoyogi-ha (Yoyogi clique: 代々木派), a group of print artists who gathered at Hiratsuka's house in the Yoyogi district of Tokyo in the 1930s. By 1927 Maeda was exhibiting oil paintings at the Kokugakai, adding hanga in the 1930s, and then exclusively hanga in the 1940s. Although Maeda seemed a typical sôsaku hanga artist with his individualized approach to printmaking, his training in oils, Shijô-style painting, and yôga led to some elements of Nihonga (Japanese native-manner painting: 日本画) and Western-influenced painting appearing in his hanga. He specifically cited Umehara as an influence, and of course, Hiratsuka, as well as other Japanese artists such as Maekawa Senpan and Onchi Kôshirô. There might have been as well some "cross-fertilization" between Maeda and Azechi Umetarô, whose landscapes sometimes had similar styles and printing techniques (they both engaged with Hiratsuka at the same time). In the West, the great French painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and Georges Braque (1882-1963) captured Maeda's imagination, although direct influence is often difficult to identify.
Maeda's other participatory activities included contributing to dôjin-zasshi (coterie magazines: 同人雑誌): one design for volume 11 of HANGA (版画) in 1930; one for Kitsutsuki (woodpecker: きつつき) in 1930; one for Kitsutsuki hangashû (Woodpecker print collection: つつき版集画集) in 1942-43; and four for Onchi Kôshirô's group project Ichimokushû (First Thursday Collection: 一木集) in volumes 3-6 in 1947-1950. His last design in the Ichimokushû series is shown above right, a view of the active Komagatake volcano in Hokkaidô (北海道). Titled Komagatake (Mount Koma-ga-take: 駒ヶ岳) and dated 1950, it is a woodcut in square format of modest size (174 x 174 mm). The rugged mountain terrain at 1,131 meters (3,711 ft.) is shown through simple forms and shading, with extensive texture on the mountain and in the sky and clouds. The sharp diagonal peak of the mountain has a rather foreboding shape, while two plumes of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur gases (and ash) rise up from the middle right. The foreground in dark brown is punctuated by lively thick black strokes representing tree branches. The artist's Masa (政) seal is at the lower right.
Maeda also contributed one design to the series Shin Nihon hyakkei (One hundred new views of Japan: 新日本百景 1938-41) in 1939; one to Tokyo kaiko zue (Scenes of lost Tokyo, or Recollections of scenes in Tokyo: 東京回顧圖會), a portfolio from 1945 of 15 prints by nine artists who were members of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association: 日本洋画協会); and one to Nihon minzoku zufu (Folk customs of Japan, illustrated: 日本民族図譜, a portfolio of 12 woodblock print by ten artists in 1946.
Maeda's dedication to the medium of the woodcut was made clear in a conversation he had with Oliver Statler (see reference below) when he said, "I think that woodprints suit the character of a Japanese. The materials are close to our life: wood, paper, even the baren with its bamboo cover. I think of trying etchings and lithographs but I never get around to them, and though I like Onchi's ideas of utilizing all sorts of odd materials, I just can't get away from wood."
Public collections with works by Maeda Masao include the Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Chiba City Art Museum; Harvard Art Museum; Honolulu Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Portland Art Museum; and Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art.
Additional information can be found in the following sources:
- 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, no. 287-3; and Nihon no hanga 1941-1950, Vol. V, 2008, nos. 39, 47, and 62-1.
- Jenkins, D.: Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century. Portland Art Museum, 1983, p. 114, no. 95.
- Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp. 250-251.
- Riccar Art Museum: Ichimokukai ten: Onchi Kôshirô to sono shûhen (First Thursday Society exhibition: Onchi Kôshirô and his cricle). Tokyo: 1979, nos. IV-20, V-13, and VI-20.
- Shiga, Hidetaka: Ki hanga no nukumori Kobayashi Kiyochika kara Munakata Shikô made (The warmth of woodblock prints: From Kobayashi Kiyochika to Munakata Shikô: 木版画のぬくもり小林清親から棟方志功まで). Tokyo: Fuchûshi Bijutsukan (Fuchû Art Museum: 府中市美術館), 2005, pp. 65 and 92, nos. 127-129.
- Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. British Museum, 1994, p. 29 and color plate 22.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 131-133, and 199-200, nos. 77-78.
- Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art — Catalogue of collections: prints (Tokyo Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan — Shozô-in mokuroku (東京国立近代美術館 • 所蔵品目録). Tokyo: 1993, pp. 241-242, nos. 2315-2318.
The text provided here is based in large part on John Fiorillo's web page about Maeda Masao: