Born in 1880 to a wealthy samurai family in Kagoshima prefecture, Hashiguchi Goyo started out life with the name of Hashiguchi Kiyoshi. His father was a painter and encouraged his son's art career. Goyo started studying traditional Japanese Kano style painting, but soon switched over to Western style painting, studying under the noted painter, Kuroda Seiki. After graduating from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1905, he began to work as a book designer and illustrator. He created the illustrations and layout for the 1905 novel "I Am a Cat" by Natsume Soseki, and worked afterwards with several other noted Japanese authors. Goyo continued to paint and had a growing interest in traditional Japanese printmaking. In 1911, he designed a ukiyo-e style poster for the Mitsukoshi department store, which won him great acclaim. This led to further studies into the art of ukiyo-e, and eventually to a collaboration with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo.
Watanabe had many skilled carvers and printers working in his business, but lacked Western style artists to design his new shin hanga prints. In 1915, Watanabe challenged Goyo to design a print for his publishing shop, hoping that a long-term relationship could be established. The print that was produced, Bathing, was a lovely image of high quality. Even so, Goyo was not satisfied by the printmaking standards of Watanabe's shop. To Watanabe's dismay, he ended their collaboration after just one print.
During 1916-17, Goyo supervised work on a 12 volume set of books called "Japanese Color Prints". These books contained reproductions of famous ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige and other artists. This work gave Goyo a chance to learn more about printmaking, and in 1918 he hired a carver and printer for his own workshop. He worked as a printmaker until 1921, when he died of meningitis.
Only fourteen prints were completed during Goyo's lifetime, one published by Watanabe and the other thirteen published in Goyo's studio under his direct supervision. The last lifetime print, Hot Springs Inn, was supervised from his deathbed. Due to Goyo's exacting standards, these prints were published in very small editions, usually less than eighty in number. They were very expensive to create and therefore, were priced much higher than other shin hanga prints of the time.
The blocks for these fourteen prints and many of the prints themselves were destroyed in the Kanto earthquake of 1923. However, collectors should be aware that Goyo reprints are currently on the market. These prints look remarkably similar to originals, but they are from recarved blocks. Most reprints are marked with a small seal in the side margin, something which does not appear on original prints. A side by side comparison with an original Goyo print will reveal very subtle differences in carving and size.
Many years after Goyo's death, his brother used Goyo's remaining designs as the basis for ten more prints. These were published with the same standards as the earlier prints and in limited numbers. The printing was supervised by Goyo's nephew, Hashiguchi Yasuo. Because of their rarity and extraordinary beauty, portrait prints by Hashiguchi Goyo are among the most highly prized of all shin hanga prints.