Born Bunjiro Kawase in Tokyo, Hasui Kawase was the son of silkbraid merchant. He began his artistic career studying painting, Japanese-style with Kiyokata, as well as Western-style at the Hakubakai. His talent was clear, exhibiting in the Tatsumi Exhibition of Painting at age 19. However, soon after seeing Shinsui’s series Eight Views of Lake Biwa, Hasui turned his attention to woodblock printing in 1919. Watanabe was the first to recognize his artistic genius, and Hasui Kawase soon became the most popular artist working for this prestigious publisher. Hasui traveled widely in Japan and his subjects are most frequently landscape themes. The prints are based upon small, quick sketches and watercolors taken from nature. Unfortunately, during the earthquake of 1923, all of his woodblocks and over 200 sketches were destroyed. The works that predate this event are extremely scarce and in great demand today. Undaunted, Hasui continued to produce his landscape prints. In 1956, the Japanese government’s Committee for the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage designated Zojo Temple in Snow and the documentation of its production as Intangible Cultural Treasures, the greatest artistic honor in postwar Japan. All of his prints are signed “Hasui” usually with a variety of red seals reading “sui.” Though Watanabe published the majority of Hasui’s prints, Doi, Kawaguchi, Sakai and others published some as well.
Regarded as a major Japanese landscape artist of the 20th century, Hasui’s prints are characterized by their serenity of mood and flawless composition. While his landscapes are markedly modern, these shin hanga prints yearn for a Japan past. The finest prints and drawings of this period have a unique and immediate appeal that rests upon traditional virtues of delicacy, poise and restraint.