Website Copyright © Ray Rapkerg 2013 *The quote in the page header is by Katherine Martin at Scholten Japanese Art -
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”
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-
Here is a biography I wrote of Goyo:
The two best reference sources for Japanese print images are probably
Either. His art name is Goyo and his family name is Hashiguchi. In Japanese the family name comes first -
This is my own print, which is the family-
(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 -
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 very close to the original. Yuyudo later produced another reprint which is almost 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 -
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. However the shaded area under the mouth in this print seems slightly larger than it is on first edition prints.
The hair is a triumph of the carver’s art. It 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 slight 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-
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.
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 -
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 -
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)