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Category: Ronin Gallery Catalog

Hashiguchi Goyo: Prints, Paintings & Drawings

Hashiguchi Goyo (1881-1921) is a critically important Japanese artist of the early 20th century. His iconic works demonstrate a transitional moment in Japanese history, capturing a time when traditional values and techniques were challenged by the rapid nature of modernity. His delicate, yet stoic beauties and classic landscapes were the last of an era that paved the way to the modern art movement of Japan.

When Goyo died suddenly at age forty-one, he had only fourteen completed woodblock prints. These prints have formed the cornerstone of many museum collections of early 20th century Japanese art and can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian. In addition to his lifetime prints, Ronin Gallery is pleased to present additional works ranging from preparatory sketches and paintings, (some of which have never before been exhibited) to posthumous prints. This rare retrospective of Goyo’s work provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into the process and progression of a modern genius.

Kiyoshi Hashiguchi was born in 1880 to a samurai family in Kyushu. The artist name, Goyo, is said to have been derived from a large five-needle pine tree, which grew in his father’s garden (Goyo no matsu in Japanese). Goyo translates to “go” (five) and “yo” (needles).

A master of intricate detail and exquisite line, Hashiguchi Goyo was part of an artistic lineage reminiscent of the esteemed prints of Harunobu and Utamaro. His training began under Hashimoto Gaho, a leader of the Kano style of painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and graduated at the top of his class in 1905. Shortly thereafter, the prominent Tokyo woodblock print publisher, Watanabe, convinced Goyo to design prints. In 1915, Watanabe published Goyo’s first woodblock print, Nude After Bathing. His sensitive portrayal of women in a delicate, serene and infinitely graceful mode led to Goyo’s immediate popularity. His mastery of line and composition are equally apparent in his tender drawings. These drawings, however, are little known in the West and are extremely scarce.

Goyo, an active perfectionist, was not satisfied with Watanabe’s workmanship and consequently set up his own workshop. His standards were so high that he rarely allowed his editions to run more than eighty prints. This decision resulted in some of the most technically superb woodcuts since the late-18th century.

On February 24, 1921, Goyo died from an ear infection, the aftermath of a severe case of influenza. His early death was a tragedy to the art world. Goyo’s entire artistic career spanned only fifteen short years, of which only the last five were devoted to woodblock printing. He produced only fourteen completed prints. At his death, Goyo left many works in various stages of completion. Some were ready to be printed, their full-color proofs already completed. For others, only key blocks had been carved, and still others had barely progressed beyond the preliminary sketches. Many of these prints have since been completed by members of Goyo’s family.