Tsuchiya Koitsu

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Kōitsu Tsuchiya 土屋光逸 (1870–1949) was a master landscape print designer part of the New Prints Movement (shin-hanga) in early 20th c. Japan. His prints, known for their intriguing color schemes and theatrical use of light, are referred to as light ray pictures (kosen-ga).

Tsuchiya Kōitsu was born Tsuchiya Sahei in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo. He was sent to Tokyo at age 15 to train at a temple but was referred to an engraving apprenticeship when the temple priests recognized his artistic talent. From 1866 to 1900, he studied under the Meiji master Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林 清親 (1847–1915). Over the course of his apprenticeship, he refined his technique in lithography, woodcut and painting. Many of Kōitsu’s early designs as part of Kiyochika’s atelier were commercial prints commemorating scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) for Kiyochika’s publishers, Sawamura Seikichi 沢村屋清吉 (active ca. 1855–1903) and Inoue Kichijirō 井上吉次郎 (active ca. 1869–1905).

Throughout his early and mid-career, Kōitsu focused primarily on hanging scrolls for export to Chinese collectors with publisher Shōbidō Tanaka 尚美堂田中 (1897–1999). He continued to produce lithographs until 1905, when he began to suffer from lung inflammation and work in the medium became potentially fatal. After abandoning lithography and working primarily in painting for nearly three decades, Kōitsu started designing more landscapes for woodblock prints (fukei-ga) in 1931. His return to printmaking is typically traced to the apocryphal meeting with esteemed print publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885–1962) at a memorial exhibition commemorating Kiyochika. Shortly after Kōitsu published a ten-print series, Cherry Blossom Viewing in the Evening at Gion (1932), with Watanabe. This work captures Kōitsu’s precision and mastery of light, which was to become progressively more complicated to depict as lamplight became as ubiquitous an element of Japanese landscapes as moonlight. He was employed by numerous other publishers throughout his career including Doi Sadaichi 土井貞(1910–1987), Takemura Hideo 竹村秀雄, Baba Nobuhiko 馬場信彦 (active 1930s–1950s), Kawaguchi Company 川口美術社,  and Iida Kunitarō 飯田国太郎 (1870–1949), to produce a total 135 woodblock designs. Kōitsu’s prints published by Doi, such as Views of Tokyo (1931–1935), are considered the best quality because of the studio’s excellent carving and printing that best captures the artist’s expert designs. His work is characterized by glossy, highly-saturated and unusual color schemes that include pink, purples, blues and oranges with strong lines.

Kōitsu’s output declined significantly amidst the diminishing export market that coincided with Japan’s entry into the Second World War (1941–45). The artist eventually abandoned printmaking altogether for painting until his death in 1949. Many of his works published by Doi continued to be so popular that they were still printed from the original blocks even after the artist’s death.

Kōitsu’s prints are part of numerous museum collections including the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Bruxelles; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Honolulu Museum of Art;  Harvard Art Museums; and Toledo Museum of Art.