Yokouchi Kiyoharu (Ginnosuke)

Yokouchi Kiyoharu (1870-1942), also known as Yokouchi Ginnosuke, is one of those Japanese woodblock print artists where the high quality of his art contrasts sharply with the low amount of information about the artist himself. Only small tidbits are known about his life, and unfortunately there is some factually incorrect information online. What we are almost completely certain about are the following three pieces of information:
1) He lived from 1870 to 1942 and was based in Yokohama, as noted in the trustworthy “Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975” by Helen Merritt and Yamada Nanako.
2) He was primarily a watercolor painter of landscapes, before being a woodblock print artist. This can be deduced by the style of his woodblock prints, but more easily by a number of known watercolor paintings carrying his name, and in his style.
3) He created eight woodblock print designs in the 1930s, known simply because copies remain that were signed and dated.

Such a lack of information is not that uncommon. In the heyday of the Shin hanga movement artists who were primarily painters and never fully transitioned to woodblock print making would sometimes still make a few woodblock print designs. Less involved than artists such as Kawase Hasui or Tsuchiya Koitsu they never became part of the woodblock print making community to the same extent, and less is known about them. In this respect, Yokouchi Kiyoharu is very similar to artist Ito Yuhan. A watercolor painter primarily as well, only a limited number of woodblock print designs by Ito Yuhan are known, and even less about his life.

When it comes to the prints of Yokouchi Kiyoharu, the woodblock print artists that immediately comes to mind is the famed Hiroshi Yoshida. Their styles have many similarities and one can wonder if Yokouchi Kiyoharu was inspired by the works of Hiroshi Yoshida. His works are described by Merritt and Nanako as “self-printed and self-carved”, another similarity to Hiroshi Yoshida. It must be taken to mean however that Yokouchi Kiyoharu was supervising and in control of the carving and printing process, and not so much that he was physically carving and printing himself, as it would not be possible to achieve the skills required to produce these prints without truly specializing in carving and printing. In any case, due to their stylistic similarities the woodblock prints of Yokouchi Kiyoharu are often misattributed to Hiroshi Yoshida by auction houses and art dealers. It is hard to imagine a better reference for a woodblock artist, but still, Yokouchi Kiyoharu should definitely be recognized as a top woodblock print designer in his own right.

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