Modern Japanese prints 1900-1960

Waves of renewal

from 6 October 2018 to 6 January 2019

To celebrate the Year of Japan in France, the Fondation Custodia presents an important retrospective exhibition of early twentieth-century Japanese prints.


Waves of renewal. Modern Japanese Prints 1900-1960 offers an exciting opportunity to discover, almost for the first time in France, the work of artists who bear witness to the twentieth-century modernisation of Japan. It explores the twin movements shin hanga and sōsaku hanga through more than two hundred prints, the work of about fifty artists.

Onchi Kōshirō, Diving, 1932
Colour woodblock print, 79,3 × 31,3 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

The prints on show come from the Nihon no hanga museum in Amsterdam, which houses the collection built up by Elise Wessels over the past twenty-five years. The prints in the collection provide a comprehensive overview of twentieth-century Japanese art. The whole collection will be donated to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam in a few years’ time.

The renewal of Japanese printmaking in the twentieth century

Natori Shunsen, Sawada Shōjirō as the swordsman Hayashi Buhei, 1927
Colour woodblock print, 39 × 27 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

At the end of the nineteenth century, the traditional Japanese print (ukiyo-e) was facing an unprecedented crisis. The cultural context of the production was changing. No prints were being issued anymore related to the Yoshiwara, the brothel neighbourhood of old Edo (Tōkyō) and the link between prints and the daily performance of theatre plays was slowly disappearing. Nor was there an interest anymore to refer in print to the history of Japan and of heroic samurai. The tendency was to be modern and to produce prints for the sake of beauty only. Apart from this, the western market evolved and publishers were aiming to sell their works to American customers and printed English catalogues and organised exhibitions in the United States. The success was immediate and at the beginning of the twentieth century, prints by icons such as Hokusai, Utamaro and Hiroshige were surpassed in value by contemporary artists whose prints were sold in auctions, primarily in New York.

The introduction of new production processes such as lithography, then the rotating press, made it possible for publishers to produce large editions of prints in a short space of time. In addition, the classic prints had been bought by foreign collectors in such great numbers that the beautiful products of eighteenth and nineteenth-century printmakers had become very scarce in Japan. The artists of Japan had themselves left in large numbers to study in Europe and the USA where they had discovered very different approaches to the role of the artist in the creation of the engraved print to those prevailing in their own country.

Shin hanga, the ‘new print’

Ishikawa Toraji, Bored, from Ten types of female nudes, 1934
Colour woodblock print, 37,2 × 48,2 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two movements were born in Japan, each representing a different response to this new deal and of fascinating diversity. The printer Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) became anxious about the flow of prints to the West, and also by the dwindling of the technical skills required for the production of high quality prints. He decided to seek out artists capable of reviving printmaking and of creating a new style, without dispensing with the traditional division of labour – in other words, four people working in collaboration, the artist, the engraver, the printer and the publisher. The movement inspired by Watanabe is called shin hanga, or ‘new print’. The subject of these ‘new prints’ remained within the traditional categories – landscape, portraits of women and actors, flowers and birds in innovative styles.

The shin hanga to be seen in the exhibition

Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, Dancer, 1932
Colour woodblock print, 43 × 28,3 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

The shin hanga movement is represented in the exhibition by the work of Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), Kasamatsu Shirō (1898-1991) and Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950), with landscapes bathed in the light of the rising sun or, by contrast, assaulted by heavy rain or snow. Hashiguchi Goyō (1880-1921), Itō Shinsui (1898-1972) and Torii Kotondo (1900-1976) specialised in portraits of beautiful, thoughtful-looking women. Others, in particular Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1889-1948) turned to the representation of the moga (‘modern girls’), independent, fashion-conscious young women.






Sōsaku hanga, the ‘creative print’

Inspired by western practice, and keen to raise the status of printmaking, the partisans of sōsaku hanga wanted to give back to the artist control of all the stages of production, without the intervention of specialised craftsmen such as the engraver or the printer. The mark of the chisel on the block of wood became the expression of the artist’s personality, as was the calligrapher’s or painter’s brushstroke on paper. By comparison with the prints of shin hanga, the results can be of rougher quality and can be marked by a feeling of spontaneity, of the impromptu – sometimes seeming unfinished.

Unlike shin hanga prints, which attracted foreign buyers, sōsaku hanga prints were generally bought by the Japanese public, either by subscription or at exhibitions.

The sōsaku hanga to be seen in the exhibition

Yamamoto Kanae, Bretonnes bathing, 1913
Colour woodblock print, 14,8 × 20,8 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

The sōsaku hanga style is represented in the exhibition by some of the best works of the artist Yamamoto Kanae (1882-1946), who spent several years in France studying western painting; he made exceptional prints of the landscape and people of Brittany.

Onchi Kōshurō (1891-1955), a leading figure in the movement, was resolutely attached to the notion that the artist should engrave his own plates. His poignant portraits of women, and his semi-abstract urban landscapes are emblematic of twentieth-century Japanese art – and are today extremely hard to come by.

Azechi Umetarō, Rain, from Nissan calendar, 1957
Colour woodblock print, 28,2 × 26,7 cm
Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam

In addition, the exhibition gives an important place to the artists who depicted the re-emergence of modern Tokyo after the destruction caused by the great earthquake of Kantō in 1923. These works show the erection of western-style buildings and the transformation of the city into a modern capital.

Selection of works

  • Uehara Konen, Dōtonbori, 1928
    Colour woodblock print, 39,1 × 26,3 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Hashiguchi Goyō, Woman combing her hair, 1920
    Colour woodblock print, 44,9 × 34,7 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Kitano Tsunetomi, Winter: Before the mirror, from Four seasons of the pleasure quarters, 1918
    Colour woodblock print, 39,5 × 26,1 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Kawase Hasui, Winter at Arashi, from Souvenirs of travels, second series, 1921
    Colour woodblock print, 39 × 26,7 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Kawabata Ryūshi, Autumn in Kiso, 1916
    Colour woodblock print, 34,3 × 25,7 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Yamamura Kōka (Toyonari), Dancing at the New Carlton Hotel, Shanghai, 1924
    Colour woodblock print, 41,2 × 28,4 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Komura Settai, Tattoo, from A legend from hell, 1938
    Coulour woodblock print, 27 × 52 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Komura Settai, Snowy morning, 1941
    Colour woodblock print, 44 × 29 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Onchi Kōshirō, Portrait of Hagiwara Sakutarō (author of The Iceland), 1943 (second edition 1949)
    Colour woodblock print, 55 × 44,5 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Onchi Kōshirō, Winter, from Beauties of the four seasons, 1927
    Colour woodblock print, 28,1 × 23,5 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Kasamatsu Shirō, The great lantern of the Kannondō, Asakusa, 1934
    Colour woodblock print, 39 × 26,2 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Itō Shinsui, Snowy night, from Twelve forms of new beauties, 1923
    Colour woodblock print, 43,2 × 26,2 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam
  • Itō Shinsui, Blackening the eyebrows, 1928
    Colour woodblock print, 28,2 × 40,2 cm
    Collection Elise Wessels – Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam


Vagues de renouveau. Estampes japonaises modernes 1900-1960
Paris, Fondation Custodia, 2018
536 pp, ca. 400 colour illustrations , 27 × 19 cm, bound, in French
ISBN 978 90 78655 29 9
49,00 €

To order this book, please fill out the form below. You will receive an invoice by e-mail, including package and postage fees. Payments can be made by bank transfer.

Also available in English in our bookshop:
Waves of renewal. Modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960
Leiden, Hotei Publishing, 2016
320 pp, ca. 400 colour illustrations, 31 × 25 cm, hardcover
ISBN 978 90 04 30771 1
59,00 €
Or order online here.


Practical Information

Exhibition from 6 October 2018 to 6 January 2019


Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt
121, rue de Lille - 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19

Access by public transport

Metro: Assemblée Nationale (line 12) or Invalides (lines 8 and 13)
RER C: Invalides or Musée d’Orsay
Bus: lines 63, 73, 83, 84, 94, Assemblée Nationale
Vélib’: station opposite (n° 7009)

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm
The exhibition is exceptionnally closed on 25 December and 1 January

Admission charges

Admission charges 10 € (full) / 7 € (reduced)
The reduced rate is available to seniors (over 60), unemployed people, groups of at least 10 people

Free admission: students, press card, ICOM card, disabled person’s card


Possibility to visit the exhibition Waves of renewal with a conference guide on the following dates (in French): Friday 19 October at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Tuesday 6 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Saturday 17 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Wednesday 28 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Saturday 8 December at 12.30 pm (fully booked).
Admission: price of the exhibition ticket
Reservation required:

This exhibition coincides with the organisation in France of the cultural season “Japonismes 2018”.

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