Ito Shinsui

Ito Shinsui
Ito Shinsui (1898 1972), was the pseudonym of a Nihonga painter and ukiyo-e woodblock print artist in Taisho and Showa-eras Japan. He was one of the great names of the shin-hanga art movement, which revitalized the traditional art after it began to decline with the advent of photography in the early 20th century. His real name was Ito Hajime.

Ito was born in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo. After unwise investments bankrupted his father's business, he was forced to drop out of elementary school in the third grade, and became a live-in apprentice at a printing shop. It was in this manner that he became interested in printing techniques, and also in the arts.

In 1911, Ito was accepted as an apprentice under Kaburagi Kiyokata, (who give him the pseudonym of "Shinsui") and issued his first woodblock print the following year. His talent was soon apparent, and from the following year, his paintings were entered in public exhibitions.

In 1912, his works were first shown by the Tatsumi gakai (Southeast Painting Society') and later works were displayed by the Kyodokai ('Homeland Society'), the Nihon bijutsuin ('Japan Art Institute'), and in the government sponsored Bunten show. His works were received with much praise by art critics, and his reputation was soon made. His early works won numerous awards, and he accepted a post at the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun to supply illustrations for newspapers.

As with most artists of the shin-hanga movement (notably Kawase Hasui), Ito was spotted by publisher Watanabe Shozaburo who effectively monopolized the market. Ito came to be known as a specialist in the bijinga ("beautiful women") genre, although he also occasionally painted landscapes.

Ito's first major print, 'Before the Mirror', depicts a young woman wearing a deep red kimono under-robe, looking off into an unseen mirror. Instead of using the harsh aniline red common in other contemporary prints, Ito used a natural vegetable dye, overprinting the robe several times to achieve a rich crimson color. Special care was also taken for the speckled gray texture background, making a contrast with the red garment, black hair, and white skin.

Ito established his own independent studio in 1927. Although many of his early works were direct reflections of traditional ukiyoe both in subject matter and in style, his technique was revolutionary. Ito would paint a "master painting" in watercolors, and dedicated craftsmen would make the actual prints from this "master copy". Ito was thus a pioneer in the Shin hanga movement.

Watanabe and Ito continued their business cooperation into the 1960s, and Watanabe exported hundreds of Shinsui prints, generating great success for them both. Ito's early landscape series, Eight Views of Lake Biwa inspired Kawase Hasui. His early bijin-ga are generally considered his finest works.

During the Pacific War, Ito was drafted by the Japanese government into producing propaganda art. He was sent to the South Pacific, and completed over 3000 sketches during his travels to various islands under Japanese rule. At the end of the war, he relocated from the ruins of Tokyo to Komoro in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. He relocated from there to Kamakura, Kanagawa in 1949.

In the post-war period Ito came to be regarded as one of the best known and respected personalities in Japanese society, and received several important honors during his lifetime. In 1952 the "Commission for the Protection of Cultural Properties" (Bunkazai Hogo Iinkai) declared him a bearer of "intangible cultural properties" (mukei bunkazai) which was then the equivalent of being declared a Living National Treasure. In 1958, he became a member of the Japan Art Academy. In 1970, he received the Order of the Rising Sun.

One of Ito's works, Yubi, ("Finger") was the subject of the 1974 Philatelic Week commemorative postage stamp issued by the Japanese post office. Another work, Fubuki ("Blizzard") was depicted on a 1983 Japanese commemorative postage stamp as part of the Modern Japanese Arts series.

Ito's daughter, Asaoka Yukiji, is a famous actress and singer in Japan.