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a beauty with her blue and white yukata open and folded down to her waist leans over a tub of water to wash her long hair, with silver mica background; signed in sumi ink, Shinsui ga, followed by rectangular artist’s seal Shikuntei; blocks carved by Maeda Kentaro and printed by Ono Gintaro, limited edition label on verso, 1952
obaiban tate-e 20 5/8 by 14 7/8 in., 52.4 by 37.9 cm
The label on verso reads:
Showa nijuhachinen kyugatsu zaidan hojin bunkazai kyokai hakko, bunkazai hogo iinkai zohan, Kami, seisaku Nihon hanga shuppan kyokai seisaku kantoku Ito Shinsui, and written in English: Washing the Hair by Shinsui Ito, Published by Commission for Protection of Cultural Properties, No. 159 (with two seals).
In 1952 the Commission for Protection of Cultural Properties in the Ministry of Education designated woodblock printing as a mukei bunkazai (intangible cultural asset), in recognition of traditional printing techniques. This emphasis on tradition ruled out the inclusion of sosaku-hanga, because those artists did not utilize the hanmonto system of artist, carver and printer. This controversial decision was followed by a debate regarding who should be recognized individually. Eventually, both Shinsui and Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) were selected to represent the entire field. Both artists were commissioned to each produce a print to commemorate woodblock printing. Shinsui designed this woodblock print, derived from the right half of a two-panel screen of the same name which he painted in 1949.
A painting by Shinsui of a very similar composition, depicting a woman wearing a blue and white yukata folded down to her waist and leaning over a water basin, was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1994. In that work, the composition is framed horizontally with morning glories at the upper left, and the beauty is preparing to wash her face, not her hair. However, the basic geometric elements are there: the blue and white yukata dominating the right half, the arch of her back, and the rounded form of the exposed skin. The work was undated, however, based on the style of painting and the signature, it seems Shinsui was revisiting the theme at some point following the publication of this print.
Kato Junzo, comp., Kindai Nihon hanga taikei, 1975-76, Vol. III, pl. 82
Tadasu Watanabe, Ito Shinsui: All the Woodblock Prints, 1992, p. 187, no. 126
Amy Reigle Stephens, gen. ed., The New Wave: Twentieth-Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 1993, p. 194, no. 255
Lawrence Smith, Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, 1912-1989, Woodblock and Stencils, 1994, p. 53 (titled Tresses)
Amy Reigle Newland and Hamanaka Shinji, The Female Image: 20th Century Prints of Japanese Beauties, 2000, p. 80, no. 90