Ito Yuhan

Ito Yuhan (1882-1951) was a Shin hanga artist who designed a series of woodblock prints in the 1930s for publisher Nishinomiya Yosaku. These prints are in unmistakable Shin hanga style and depict landscapes and famous Japanese places. That notwithstanding, within the Shin hanga movement, Ito Yuhan is an absolutely unique artist with an unforgettable style. This is best exemplified in his prints where the key-block was omitted during printing, even if it was used during the creation process of the woodblocks. As a result, the sharp black outlines that are present in other Shin hanga designs are missing, and combined with printing in soft tones and with many color gradients, the result is almost like watercolor paintings.

There is some discussion within the Japanese woodblock print community as to when the Ito Yuhan woodblock prints were first made. We estimate that, as written above, the first editions were made in the 1930s, for two reasons. First of all, in H. Merritt and N. Yamada, “Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975” (1995, p.48) it is written that Ito Yuhan was active in the 1930s. It is hard to imagine the first editions of the prints being made only 20 years later. Even if that did happen for some woodblock prints of other artists, those were always exceptions with many other prints being made closely after designing them. Of course, this relies on the assumption that H. Merritt and N. Yamada are correct, which we cannot further verify, but it is a very safe assumption to make. Secondly, there are copies of Ito Yuhan prints with the famous “Made in Japan” stamp on the back. Even if such a stamp does not provide an absolute guarantee that the print was created circa 1930s, it increases the likelihood a lot as the stamp is disproportionately found on prints from around the 1930s.

Another question is then when later editions were printed. This is unfortunately hard to establish exactly. Even if it is possible to see the differences in editions, there are no good comparison prints available that are firmly established for a certain period. What complicates this further for some designs is the lack of use of a key-block. Normally it is at least somewhat possible to order Japanese woodblock prints chronologically by their printing period based on the degradation of the key-blocks visible in imperfections in subsequent editions. However, due to the absence of key-block lines in some designs, such an approach relying on block-degradation to date is less effective for some of the Ito Yuhan prints, even if still partially possible. In general, we provide a wide margin then for our estimations of the dates of Ito Yuhan woodblock prints. That said, discerning the various prints is all the more important in the case of Ito Yuhan since the differences are significant due to the printing with so many color gradients.

For those looking to buy Ito Yuhan prints at Nipponprints, please browse his prints here and do not hesitate to contact us with any question.

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