Japanese woodblock print artist

Copyright © Ray Rapkerg 2013

Goyo Hashiguchi

Hi there, my name is Ray Rapkerg and I’m a photographer with a fondness for Japanese prints.
My favourite artist is Goyo Hashiguchi, so I thought I would set up this ‘micro-site’ about his most famous work, Woman Combing Her Hair (Kamisuki), 1920.

Hashiguchi, Goyo (1880-1921)

My aim is to make available the clearest, highest resolution images of this work to be found on the web. Click on images to download the high resolution versions (they are about five megabytes and take 10-20 seconds).

Who was Goyo?

Here is a biography I wrote of Goyo:

The Life of Goyo Hashiguchi  >>

More Goyo images?

The two best reference sources for Japanese print images are probably
ukiyo-e.org and JAODB. Here are links to their Goyo sections. A couple of other good references are listed as well.

Goyo on ukiyo-e.org  >>

Goyo or Hashiguchi?

Either. His art name is Goyo and his family name is Hashiguchi. In Japanese the family name comes first, so the Japanese call him Hashiguchi Goyo when writing in Japanese and Goyo Hashiguchi when writing in English. When using a single name he is usually referred to as Goyo although Hashiguchi would be more formal.

More on Goyo  >>

This is my own print, which is the family-authorised reprint made after Goyo’s death. The most valuable version is, of course, the 1920 first edition supervised by Goyo, but that is worth around $15,000 so needless to say I don’t have it!
(For any millionaires reading this, I do know a London gallery that has an original for sale which is in wonderful condition. The British Museum has an original too - although not for sale of course.)
The print shown here was produced in the early 1970s by Tanseisha under the supervision of Goyo’s family to mark the 50th anniversary of Goyo’s death. The Tanseisha reprint is the closest to the original, in my opinion. Yuyudo later produced some more, although to my eye they are good but perhaps not quite as good as the official Tanseisha one.

This shows how to identify a Tanseisha reprint: it has the blue writing down the left margin. The original 1920 print has nothing in the margins. The Yuyudo reprints do not have this blue writing: they have a tiny seal on the right side and often a red seal on the left side. There is also a 2011 Watanabe reprint (possibly printed using Yuyudo’s woodblocks) which has a red seal similar to the Yuyudo one. All the reprints are rare enough to command significant prices - but still far lower than a 1920 first edition. It is possible to cut the edges off a reprint in order to attempt to fake a 1920 original, so buyer beware!

Goyo on JAODB  >>

Goyo on Sholten  >>

Goyo on VJB  >>

‘Woman Combing Her Hair’
by Goyo Hashiguchi, 1920:

“it transcends its era and stands out
as an iconic work among Japanese woodblock prints of any period”

Sholten

The hardest part for a printer to get right seems to be the very subtle shaded areas under the eyes and mouth. These are dependent on the individual printer’s skill and vary print to print, even on the first edition. Some of this variation could be due to fading over time, but much seems to be original. Some prints have these areas so faintly printed as to be almost invisible.
This Tanseisha print has shaded areas of medium strength, which I feel is the most successful amount. However the shaded area under the mouth in this print seems slightly larger than it is on first edition prints.
 

A triumph of the carver’s art is the hair, which is incredibly finely rendered. Remarkably, the reprints seem to have hair as perfectly carved and printed as the first edition. The printing of the hair is unusually complex, with grey hair printed under black hair to give a lifelike effect.

The background is shimmering mica, which photographs cannot show clearly. First editions invariably have aged mica, usually with cracks and missing or rubbed areas. Apparently this is because the mica powder was mixed with a simple glue and applied, which does not achieve a robust result.

 

Some reprints seem to be not completely well printed where the mica meets the hair. This shows how it should be. Yuyudo reprints occasionally seem to suffer from a slightly unfortunate gap in this area. However in the context of the whole image it is hardly noticeable.

 

(Of course, there are modern printed copies of this iconic image available, such as from the British Museum, but these are obviously printed using normal modern machinery and are not woodblock prints at all. They are easy to tell apart from actual woodblock prints because they look a bit fuzzy, close inspection reveals the printing dots, and the background is not mica.)

There is one key difference between the reprints and the first edition: the skin on the first edition is printed with a paper-coloured tone, whereas the reprints have bare paper for the skin areas. Printing the skin colour is very rare in Japanese prints, I believe, which shows the care with which Goyo produced his prints. The printed skin is almost invisible when the print is new but as the paper discolours with age the skin keeps its correct tone.

Most of the first edition prints seem to have slightly paler lips, possibly due to fading over time.

 

 

Prints that have paler lips also have a paler sash here.

The thick black outlines are slightly translucent here, which is correct. Some reprints seem to have blacker outlines.

The lack of printed skin tone is also visible on the arm. I have not seen this key difference commented on, so perhaps only some originals have printed skin, or perhaps it is a feature not many viewers notice. Also, I am puzzled that the reprinters, who took such extreme care to create perfect reprints, did not bother to match this key area. Perhaps I am missing something: I need to investigate further.

 

Here is a slightly closer and sharper view of the whole print. You can just make out where the shimmering mica background ends and the plain paper border begins.

Some prints are a fraction darker (more densely printed) than this, and some are a fraction lighter, but the variation is very small - which shows how much care the printers took.
The 1920 first edition sold for a very high price when new, and the reprints were also designed to be relatively small editions sold for high prices. Japanese woodblock printing of this quality does not come cheap.

Here is the presentation folder the Tanseisha reprint comes in. The inner folder is made from a unique pearlescent mottled paper. These rare papers are usually made by only one traditional Japanese paper mill. They are expensive and virtually impossible to fake. So the folder tells us quite a bit about the print.

Here is the closed folder. This is such a nice item in itself that when I took it to a picture framer he thought the folder was the artwork I wanted framed!

 

 

I also have some of Goyo’s preparatory drawings - or, to be precise, the 1976 lithographs made of them.

Here is an example of one of the drawings. They are lovely sensitive images with a subtle charm all of their own.

Thanks for taking a look at this page about the Japanese woodblock
print by Hashiguchi Goyo named ‘Woman Combing Her Hair’.

 

A biography of Hashiguchi Goyo is here.

 

Contact: ray(at)rapkerg.com (replace “at” with the usual @ symbol)