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Ishiwata Kōitsu (1897-1987)

Prints in Collection

Biographical Data


Ishiwata Kōitsu 石渡江逸 (1897-1987)

Family name: Ishiwata or, possibly, Ishiwatari1
Given name: Shōichirō 庄一郎
Artist names: Kōitsu 江逸; Yoshimi 芳美よしみ; Shōichirō 庄一郎 and Tōkō 東江 or 東光2

Sources: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early YearsHelen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, p. 65-66; Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 45 and as footnoted.

Ishiwata Kōitsu was a shin hanga print designer active in the1930s into the early 1950s who created naturalistic and poignant landscapes portraying the beauty of everyday life in urban and rural Japan. While his work never obtained the popularity of his contemporary and teacher, the pioneering shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), several of his prints, including the one print in this collection, are iconic of the shin hanga genre.

Born in Shiba, Tokyo into a family of kimono designers, Ishiwata’s given name was Shōichirō 庄一郎, a name that would appear on many of his prints for the Tokyo publisher Katō Junji 加藤潤二 later in his career.  After graduating from primary school he studied design, fabric dying and nihonga  painting under his brother-in-law, the kimono designer Igusa Senshin, who had studied under the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi.3  His first recorded job was as a textile designer for the Yokohama department store Nozawaya which he joined following the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake and where he won “considerable recognition” for his designs.4  He worked there until 1930 when he left to design prints for Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962), the publisher who birthed the shin hanga genre.

While Ishiwata’s brother-in-law may have introduced the techniques of traditional woodblock design to him, his long association with the shin hanga designer Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) must have been instrumental in Ishiwata’s changing of career paths at the age of 33. First meeting in 1917, the year Hasui was approached by Watanabe to design some experimental landscape prints for him, the two artists must have maintained contact throughout the 1920s, as it was Hasui who recommended that Ishiwata come to work for Watanabe in 1930.  While a catalog published by the Yokohama Museum of Art states that Ishiwata “became an earnest student of Kawase” in 1930, I imagine he became one of the introspective Hasui’s few students prior to that date.5 Certainly Ishiwata’s first prints for Watanabe, released in 1931under his artist’s name of  Kōitsu 江逸,were stylistically heavily influenced by Hasui. Ishiwata would design prints for Watanabe until 1935 when both he and Hasui started creating designs for the Tokyo publisher Katō Junji.  While Hasui would return to Watanabe, Ishiwata may have finished his career with Katō, although he would work with several other publishers along the way such as Doi Sadaichi (using the art name Tōkō) and Kawaguchi.

For an artist who seemingly dedicated his career to printmaking after 1930, surprisingly few prints, less than fifty, have been identified as being designed by the artist with the bulk of those published by Watanabe (approximately 25) and Katō (approximately 10).  I imagine that in the coming years more of his prints may well be discovered.  

Seventeen of approximately twenty-five designs for the publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō

click on image to enlarge 

Many of the artist's designs were landscapes employing settings in and around Yokohama, an area he was intimately familiar with, but he also created a series depicting toys [Collection of Pictures of Toys (Omacha eshū), ca. 1935] and a series showing various hot-spring resorts [Hot Spring Landscapes (Onse fūkei), ca. 1940.]6  His handling of light has been compared to that of Inoue Yasuji (1864-1889) a pupil of Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), considered the Meiji-era master of light and shadow.7  Smith states that Ishiwata’s “subtle, dark and low-key subjects seem not to have been successful with Western customers, and around 1935 he switched to working with Katō Junji” who is described as being “more receptive” to Kōitsu’s work.8  [I imagine that Kōitsu’s move was also influenced by Hasui’s starting to design prints for Katō in the same year.]  While working for Katō, Ishiwata would occasionally combine stenciling techniques with woodblock, certainly a throw-back to his textile design days.9 

With the exception of several prints published by Katō in 1950, I was not able to find any information on Ishiwata’s activities after WWII, although additional research may reveal more about the artist’s later activities.

Samples of the Artist's Signatures and Seals

 Kōitsu 江逸 seal 
Kōitsu ga 江逸画 with Kōitsu seal
Kōitsu 江逸 with Kōitsu seal
Shōichiro 庄一郎
with Shō seal
Yoshimi ga
Yoshimi 芳美 with paulownia seal
Tōkō 東江 with Shō  seal
Tōkō 東江 with unread seal

1 The British Museum website http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=147386
2 Ross Walker and Toshikazu Doi have concluded that Ishiwata is the artist who signed his prints Tōkō
3 橫浜美術館コレクション選 [Yokohama Museum of Art, Selected Works from the Collection] Yokohama Bijutsukan, 1989, p. 172
4 Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early YearsHelen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, p. 65.
5 op. cit. Yokohama Museum of Art, Selected Works
6 Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 45
7 Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan, Kendall Brown, Hollis Goodall-Cristante, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, p. 82-83.
8 Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Press, 1994, p. 25.