The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Japanese art and Ito Shinsui: bijinga and landscapes

Japanese art and Ito Shinsui: bijinga and landscapes

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Ito Shinsui (1898-1972) left a lasting legacy because he produced many stunning works of art. His art work came to the fore during the Taisho and Showa period in Japan and he became famous for stunning images of beautiful women. However, Ito Shinsui also produced many amazing landscape paintings and he and a few other major artists maintained the rich tradition of Japanese art during this difficult and dramatic time in Japanese history.

He was born in Tokyo and because of his father becoming bankrupt after making rash investments it was clear that he couldn’t remain at elementary school. This event would become a blessing in disguise because Ito Shinsui became a live-in apprentice and soon it would become apparent that he had been blessed with many artistic talents.

Ito Shinsui’s apprenticeship took place in a printing shop and this opened up a new world because now he could learn important printing techniques and study more about the arts. His apprenticeship started in 1911 under Kaburagi Kiyokata and within one year and at the tender age of 14, his paintings became known to the general public because Kaburagi Kiyokata entered them into exhibitions.

Therefore, by an early age it was clear that this young teenager was destined for a bright future. Ito Shinsui belonged to the Shin Hanga movement and the famous publisher, Watanabe Shozaburo, developed his reputation in the commercial area because of his many links and high motivation. This relationship would last many decades and both benefitted greatly.

The “Eight Views of Lake Biwa (Omi)” became highly acclaimed and Kawase Hasui was greatly inspired by this painting collection. Other famous collections by Ito Shinsui include “Twelve Figures of New Beauties,” “Collection of Modern Beauties,” “Twelve Views of Oshima,” “Three Views of Mount Fuji,” and “Ten Views of Shinano.” Also, what is remarkable is that the “Eight Views of Lake Biwa (Omi)” was completed in 1918 when Ito Shinsui was extremely young.

Another stunning piece of work done by Ito Shinsui before he was 19 years of age is “Young Girl Washing.”The composition and passion of this stunning masterpiece is extremely striking. This applies to the sophisticated composition for such a young individual and the innocence that the image portrays.

Dieter Wanczura comments that “Shunsui was a master of bijinga – images of beautiful women in a sensual, refined, technically perfect and appealing manner. The artist’s bijinga are marked by a frequent use of a light gray background and red or blue colors in the garment. Another favorite subject was landscape prints.”

The Shin Hanga movement which Ito Shinsui belonged to left a lasting legacy because of the art form it produced. The Artelino website states that “The shin hanga movement integrated Western elements without giving up the old values of Japanese, traditional woodblock prints. Instead of blindly imitating Western art styles, the new movement concentrated on traditional subjects like landscapes, beautiful women and actor portraits. Inspired by European Impressionism the artists introduced the effects of light and the expression of individual moods. The result was a technically superb and compelling new style of Japanese prints.”

Ito Shinsui left a remarkable legacy because from such an early age it was apparent that he was extremely gifted. Therefore, despite the turbulence of his early childhood when his father faced severe hardship, Ito Shinsui overcame this obstacle and graced the world of art.

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