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).
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.
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!
‘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”
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
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
(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’.