Artist: Itō Shinsui (伊東深水)

Lifetime: February 4 1898 - May 8 1972

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"Ito Shinsui without doubt, is regarded as one of the most significant artists of the Shin Hanga movement, and is considered as the last Ukiyo-e artist. Alongside Uemura Shoen (1875-1949), Shinsui was considered a master of Bijinga (images of beautiful women).

With the original name of Hajime, Shinsui was born in Fukagawa, the downtown area in Tokyo in February 1898. Soon after his birth, he was adopted to a businessman Ito Hanzaburo. As a result of the financial hardship of the family, Hajime at the young age of nine left school in order to work, and found employment in the Tokyo Printing Company after serving his apprenticeship to an advertising agency for a year. He soon developed a keen interest in art and it was not long before the company took notice of his talent and offered him a position in their design department. It was here that Hajime (Shinsui) acquired the knowledge of the basics of painting from Yuki Somei, the Nihonga artist. The progress in Hajime's artistic abilities was remarkable, and the head of the design department introduced Hajime to the renowned painter Kaburagi Kiyokata – this was to mark the beginnings of his true artistic journey.

It was Kiyokata who gave him his artist name, Shinsui. The character shin was another way of reading of the character fuka from Fukagawa, the place in Tokyo where Hajime was born. The character sui was derived from the left-hand side of the kiyo character in Kiyokata's own name, which means water.

Hajime, now with his newly acquired artist name of Shinsui, underwent demanding training as his master, Kiyokata, did not allow Shinsui to neglect his education. Shinsui worked during the daytime whilst attending night school for further education. It was between breaks of the day and night school, that Shinsui went to study painting from his master Kiyokata. Despite fatigue and insufficient sleep, his enthusiasm and devotion to art continued, and it was not long before his paintings were included in public exhibitions. In 1912, his painting 'Nodoka' was first shown at the Tatsumi Gakai (Southest Painting Society) and won the second prize at the Heiwa Kinen Tokyo Hakurankai (Peace Memorial Tokyo Exhibiion). In the following two years his works won the first prize in the same exhibition. In 1914, his prize-winning painting 'Sajiki no Onna' was displayed by the Kyodokai (Homeland Society), the Nihonga Bijutsuin (Japan Art Institution). In 1915, 'Sixteen women' was rewarded with a prize at the government sponsored Bunten show.

At the age of eighteen, Shinsui joined the Shin Hanga movement, which included major artists such as Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) and Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921). Established by the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962) the movement aimed to revive the olde structure of ukiyo-e (woodblock print) production. Watanabe was attracted by Shinsui's paintings and desired to create an Ukiyo-e print using the image of Shinsui's painting 'Taikyo' (Before the Mirror), and thus came about Shinsui's first print. 'Before the Mirror', portrays a young woman wearing a deep red Kimono under-robe looking off into an unseen mirror. Watanabe's desire was to capture and emphasize the beauty of back of the neck, the area between the black hair and the kimono. In this work, he also avoided using the aniline red which was so widely used in prints from that era. A natural vegetable dye for the red garment was used instead, even though it required a numerous re-printing of the robe in order to achieve a rich crimson color. He also gave great attention to the background, a flecked grey that contrasted with the deep red garment, glossy black hair and ivory skin. 100 editions were produced for the domestic market, and a further 50 for foreign customers - in a short time they sold out. He bought back three to exhibit at the Shirakiya Department Store. Shinsui worked with Watanabe for several decades until Watanabe's death in 1962. Over sixty landscape prints were produced while about a hundred others were mostly beautiful women. Shinsui also collaborated with other publishers Isetatsu, the Yomiuri Newspaper Company, and Katsumata. The series 'Eight Views of Lake Biwa' fixed a standard for the landscape print which influenced Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) and Kawase Hasui.

In 1919, at the age of twenty one, Shinsui married Yoshiko and moved into Zoshigaya, in central Tokyo. Yoshiko gave a birth to two boys in 1920 and 1921. As Shinsui was so enthusiastic about educating the next generation he established his own school of painting, the Shinsui Gakujuku in Oimachi, where more than a hundred trainees were studying, specialising in bijinga (beauty images). Since the number of the students increased by five hundred he and his family moved into a bigger property in Ikegami in 1930, and renamed the Shinsui Gakujuku the Rohogajuku, Academy of the Clear Peak. With his fellow Yamakawa Shuho (1898-1944), he founded the Seikinkai (Blue Collar Society) in 1940, aiming at realism in portraiture. In 1933 Shinsui was offered to become an adjudicator for the Teiten where he won the special prize in 1929, Shin-Bunten and Nitten.

After visiting China as a Japanese Navy official artist in 1939, Shinsui developed a new interest in landscape prints. In 1943, he published three landscape sketches 'Nanpo Suketchi' (Sketches from the South). In the Pacific War, he evacuated to Nagano Prefecture, which is one of the greatest mountainous regions in Japan, and during this time he made series Shinano Jukei (Ten Views of Shinano), one of his masterworks. Around this time, Shinsui also began to work with Kabuki and other subjects in order to keep a balance between bijinga and other subjects. In between 1958 and 1964, he traveled to Europe, North and South America and Indonesia, upon which several of his landscape works were inspired by.

In 1952, his art work was designated 'Intangible Cultural Asset', one of the highest awards for art, by the Japanese government. He became a member of the Japanese Academy of Arts in 1958. Shinsui died of bladder cancer in May 1972 only a few months after his teacher Kiyokata's death."

This information is taken directly from japanesegallery.co.uk.