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TSUCHIYA Kôitsu (土屋光逸)


Tsuchiya Kôitsu (土屋光逸 1870-1949), born in Tokyo and given the name Sahei, was the second son of Tsuchiya Kumajirô and his wife Yasu. At the age of fifteen Kôitsu moved to Tokyo to become a trainee at a temple, but not long after, on the recommendation of a temple priest, Kôitsu was apprenticed at the Matsuzaki Shûmei-dô engraving studio. Matsuzaki was closely associated as a carver for the painter and print artist Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林清親 1847-1915), and soon Kôitsu was introduced to Kiyochika, moving into the master's home to study art and print design. During his tutelage with Kiyochika, Kôitsu improved upon his skills in woodcut, lithography, and illustration. He also developed his use of subtle light and shadow for his landscapes and cityscapes, called kôsenga (Light-ray pictures: 光線画), a term first used in 1916 to describe the realistic treatment of light and shadow in his teacher Kiyochika's views of Tokyo (1876-81). Kôitsu lived with Kiyochika for nineteen years until around 1903, becoming as much a member of Kiyochika's family as his student. In 1922 Kôitsu moved to the birthplace of his second wife Masu in Nanko, Chigasaki, where he remained until his death.

Ishiwata Koitsu evening at namamugi
Tsuchiya Kôitsu: Gion no yozakura (Evening cherry-blossoms in Gion: 祇園の夜桜), 1932
Woodblock print, published by Watanabe Shôzaburô (250 x 375 mm)
(This was Kôitsu's first woodblock print design in the shin-hanga style).

Kôitsu first designed woodblock prints for scenes of the Sino-Japanese war (nisshin-sensô-e, 日清戦争絵)) starting in 1895, while also producing images as a lithographer until 1905. In this genre of printmaking, Kôitsu worked with the publisher Takekawa Seikichi (武川清吉) in 1895 (two sets of war triptychs). He also designed several lithographic prints with Tokyo Shôseidô (東京松聲堂) from about 1898 to at least 1904. There was , as well, one nisshin-sensô-e from the publisher Inoue Kichijirô (井上吉次郎). Apparently determined to dedicate himself to lithography from around 1904, he was thwarted when he contracted pleurisy, which made lithographic work potentially fatal and forced him to abandon the idea. From 1905 until around 1930, Kôitsu earned a living painting kakemono-e (hanging scrolls: 掛物絵 also called kakejiku, 掛軸) for the Chinese market under the auspices of the publisher Shôbidô Tanaka (尚美堂田中 also known as Tanaka Ryôzô), a wholesaler of lithographic prints, postcards, photographs, hanging scrolls, and folding screens. Kôitsu's daughter Masa recalled that, "In the early period of the Shôwa era [late 1920s] ... my father worked as an artist at home and used to diligently make various paintings for hanging scrolls for export to China. I understood he had quite a lot of orders with considerable earnings."

It was not until much later that he became a successful artist in fûkeiga (landscape prints: 風景画) following upon a chance encounter with the eminent publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô, founder of the shin hanga ("new prints: 新版画) movement. The two met at an exhibition held in 1931 for the seventeenth anniversary of Kiyochika's death. Soon after, in 1932, at the age of sixty-one, Kôitsu produced his first fûkeiga in the shin-hanga style for Watanabe. The inaugural design was titled Gion no yozakura (Evening cherry-blossoms in Gion: 祇園の夜桜). The impression shown above shows the influence of his teacher Kiyochika and exhibits some of the aforementioned kôsen (light-and-dark) effects now transcribed into woodcut. Even so, Kôitsu's years of lithographic work come through as another factor in the rendering of shapes and colors. An impression of Gion no yozakura was included in Watanabe’s Third Modern Woodblock Print Exhibition held in Nihonbashi from April 17 to 22, 1932.

Ishiwata Koitsu evening at namamugi
Tsuchiya Kôitsu: Morigasaki Kaigan (Morigasaki Coast: 森ヶ崎海岸), c. early 1930s
Woodblock print, published by Kawaguchi Bijutsusha (258 x 380 mm)

Despite the importance of Kôitsu's association with Watanabe, he produced only ten woodcuts for that publishing firm. He otherwise designed shin hanga for six other publishers, most importantly Doi Sadaichi (土井貞一), sometimes read, incorrectly, as Doi Teiichi. All told, Kôitsu produced about 135 woodcut designs for Doi, 53 for Shôbidô Tanaka (尚美堂田中), 54 for Takemura Hideo (竹村秀雄), 24 for the Kyoto publisher Baba Nobuhiko (馬場信彦), and three each for Kawaguchi Bijutsusha (川口美術社) and Iida Kunitarô (飯田国太郎). Doi Hangaten continues to this day to re-publish Kôitsu prints from the original carved blocks.

Among Kôitsu's scarce designs for Kawaguchi, the fine, atmospheric example shown immediately above is titled Morigasaki Kaigan (Morigasaki Coast: 森ヶ崎海岸), c. 1932. Three silhouetted figures are depicted in a fishing boat in the early evening. Various shades of blue pigment establish the mood of the scene, complementing most effectively the yellow moonlight and spot of orange-hued illumination from the lantern. This sort of "evening blue" was also a staple coloration for the Watanabe studio, which was used in many works by native Japanese artists as well as Western artists such as Elizabeth Keith.

The woodcut design shown below was one of the most popular works by Kôitsu published by Doi Sadaichi; in fact, there have been numerous post-war impressions released to the market. Illustrated here is an impression from the original 1935 edition. Titled Yotsuya Araki Yokochô ([Teahouse in] Araki Street, Yotsuya: 四ツ谷荒木横町), the design is one of twelve scenes from the series Tokyo fûkei (Views of Tokyo: 東京風景) published from January 1931 to November 1935. First-edition prints have a blue seal in the margin with the series title. This view is one of Kôitsu's dramatic kôsenga or light-ray pictures. Two elegantly dressed geisha are at the entrance of a teahouse or restaurant, and another, depicted only in silhouette, can be seen at a second-story window. The Doi studio's interpretation of Kôitsu's sketches is distinctly different from that of Kawaguchi shown above, and today the Doi "style" is considered definitive for the artist's woodcuts. Colors are saturated and have what might be described as a glossy or polished appearance, sometimes bordering on the slightly garish. Unusual orange, pink, and purple pigments can be found on many works. Keyblock lines tend to be firm and strong, although some forms within certain images were printed without keyblock lines, such as trees shown in mist or in the evening. It is instructive to compare, for example, the "Yotsuya" design below with the much softer treatment given to the Kôitsu Ishiwata print "Namamugi" published by Watanabe.

Ishiwata Koitsu evening at namamugi
Tsuchiya Kôitsu: Yotsuya Araki Yokochô ([Teahouse in] Araki Street, Yotsuya: 四ツ谷荒木横町), January 1935
From the series Tokyo fûkei (Views of Tokyo: 東京風景)
Woodblock print, published by Doi Sadaichi (240 x 365 mm)

Tsuchiya Kôitsu's production and income plummeted during the Second World War. Afterward, he continued with his painting until his death in 1949. These works included images that traditionally appealed to Japanese collectors, a favorite being Shôki the Demon Queller. However, Kôitsu did not create any new shin hanga after the war.

Prints by Tsuchiya Kôitsu can be found in many private collections as well as public institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Harvard Art Museums, MA; Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Bruxelles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Toledo Museum of Art.

Note: There was another artist also working in the shin hanga style named Ishiwata Kôitsu (石渡江逸 1897-1987), whose art name (Kôitsu 江逸) was pronounced the same but written differently. © 2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Catalogue of Collections [Modern Prints]: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo kokuritsu kindai bijutsukan shozô-hin mokuroku, 東京国立近代美術館所蔵品目録). 1993, nos. 1605-14.
  • Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early Years. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998, pp. 64-65.
  • Stephens, Amy Reigle (ed.): The New Wave: Twentieth Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. London & Leiden: Bamboo Publishing & Hotei Japanese Prints, 1993, p. 110, plate 84.
  • Walker, Ross and Doi, Toshikazu: The Catalogue Raisonné of Tsuchiya Koitsu: Meiji to Shin-Hanga, Watercolours to Woodblocks. Otsu City: Ohmi Gallery Publishing, 2008.
  • Walker, Ross, and Doi, Toshikazu: "Tsuchiya Kôitsu (1870-1949): An Artist's journey," in: Andon 89, December 2010, pp. 27-42.
  • Walker, Ross, and Doi, Toshikazu: "Publishers of Tsuchiya Kôitsu works," in" Andon 91, December 2011, pp. 25-47.
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