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Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair” by Goyō Hashiguchi

Hashiguchi Goyo - Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair - Walters 95880

“Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair” by Goyō Hashiguchi

“Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair” by Goyō Hashiguchi is a colour woodblock print, from 1920’s Japan. The artist, Goyo’s had a late calling to traditional Japanese Woodblock Printing after a career of illustration in other media. He was inspired by the old techniques and admiration for the great portraits of beautiful women by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806). Goyo’s extraordinarily beautiful and technical excellent woodblock prints are among the most sought-after Japanese prints.

Goyō Hashiguchi’s perfectionism led to him publishing only a handful of prints, each one technically excellent with a nostalgic passion for the art form. The exceptional wood cutting of the blocks to portray the intricacies of women’s hair was an Ukiyo-e tradition which Goyo has enthusiastically revived. The prints impact is also enhanced by restricting his palette to a few primary colours. Hashiguchi had a short period of only two years to produce these superb masterworks before he died aged forty-two.

Goyo Hashiguchi was a samurai and a Shijo-style painter who was a perfectionist and who set up his own workshop a few years before his death. His standards were so high that most of his editions ran to no more than eighty prints. Goyo died having completed only 14 prints (13 plus one published by Watanabe), later members of Goyo’s family brought some of his unfinished works to completion.

Woodblock printing in Japan

Woodblock printing in Japan is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Prints from the 20th evolved from the earlier movements, especially with the movement’s emphasis on individual expression. Artists such as Goyō Hashiguchi, brought more modern sensibilities to images of women

The first woodblock printing dates to around 650 AD when the Chinese began printing on paper using wooden blocks. Woodblock printing was used in China for centuries to print books, long before the invention of movable type in Europe. In Japan, woodblock printing for artworks was widely adopted during the Edo period (1603–1868). Although similar to woodcut in Western printmaking in some regards, the Japanese technique differed in that it used water-based inks, as opposed to western woodcut, which often uses oil-based inks. The Japanese water-based inks provide a wide range of vivid colours, glazes, and transparency.

To create a Woodblock print, the first step was for an image to drawn onto thin Japanese paper then glued face-down onto a plank of close-grained wood. Oil was then used to make the lines of the image visible. An incision was made along both sides of each line. Wood was then chiselled away, based on the drawing outlines. The block was inked using brushes. A flat hand-held tool was used to press the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper. The first prints were merely a single colour, with additional colours applied by hand. The introduction of multiple colours that had to be applied with precision over previous ink layers.

Vincent van Gogh and Japanese Art

Vincent van Gogh began his deep interest in Japanese prints when he discovered magazine illustrations of artwork created by woodblock prints using Japanese techniques that depicted Japanese life. In 1885, van Gogh started collecting ukiyo-e prints that could be bought in small Parisian shops. Van Gogh shared these prints with his contemporaries and organised a Japanese print exhibition in Paris in 1887. One version of Van Gogh’s Portrait of Pere Tanguy (1887) featured a backdrop of Japanese prints. He was inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and in his works the vibrancy of colour and light that he observed in Japanese woodblock prints.

Explore Goyō Hashiguchi

Reflections

  • What does Woodblock printing offer that normal oil paints do not?
  • Could the details of hair strands in this masterpiece only be achieved with Woodblock printing?

Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair

  • Title:                    Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair
  • Artist:                  Goyō Hashiguchi
  • Published:          1920
  • Culture:               Japanese
  • Writing:               Japanese
  • Material:             Woodblock print on paper
  • Dimensions:       H: 44.6 cm (17.5 in); W: 32.7 cm (12.8 in)
  • Museum:            Walters Art Museum

Goyō Hashiguchi

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“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
– Japanese Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) Goyō Hashiguchi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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