Kacho-e, Prints of Birds and Flowers
Kacho-e, or 'bird and flower' prints, progressed to a new level during the shin hanga movement. Shin hanga artists, like Ohara Koson and Ito Sozan built on the traditional Japanese style and compositions of Meiji kacho-e, but incorporated a new Western perspective and depth. They began to depict flora and fauna in a highly realistic and sympathetic way, elevating the prints beyond mere decoration.
Birds and flowers had always been common subjects of Japanese prints and paintings, but such prints were rarely thought of as fine art, at least not in Japan. Japanese collectors tended to prefer prints of Japanese landscapes and actors - subjects which had nostalgic or emotional significance in their lives. However, kacho-e had always quite popular with western collectors, especially Hiroshige's bird prints. This explains why Watanabe and other woodblock publishers decided to include kacho-e prints as part of their publishing business. The majority of 'bird and flower' prints published by Watanabe were in fact, exported to the west.
Although only a few artists specialized in kacho-e prints, many other print designers contributed to this genre. Perhaps drawing on his extensive knowledge of ukiyo-e, Hashiguchi Goyo designed a print of ducks in 1920. It is reminiscent of a 19th century print by Hiroshige, but clearly more realistic. Goyo's skill at rendering water, from the ripples on the water's surface to the shadowy duck diving underneath, gives his image a depth that the Hiroshige print lacks. Another famous bijin-ga artist, Ito Shinsui, designed several kacho-e prints, including Apples and Bananas in 1922. This print is similar to a western still-life painting with depth and shadows.
The landscape artist, Hiroshi Yoshida, created several prints depicting various birds and animals. One of the best is the 1926 Obatan Parrot, a beautifully printed image with a textured gomazuri background and gauffrage (embossing) on the feathers. Yoshida's contemporary, Kawase Hasui, also designed several kacho-e prints, including an elegantly simple print of lilies.
But the most notable of the landscape artists who contributed to and ultimately transformed the kacho-e genre is Toshi Yoshida. From Raicho (1930) to Thompsons Gazelles (1977), many of Toshi's prints depict animals interacting with one another, often in natural settings. He is especially renowned for his prints of East Africa. Toshi's animal prints have a realism and liveliness that elevate them beyond mere portraits, inspiring awe and respect for nature as a whole.