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Yoshijiro Urushibara


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The Japanese artist Yoshijiro Urushibara had a profound influence on European color printmakers. Growing up in Tokyo, he studied the art of carving and printing woodblocks. During this time, he took the artist's name Mokuchu which was used in some of his seals. At the age of 19, Urushibara travelled to London to demonstrate Japanese printmaking at the Anglo-Japanese Exhibition. He was hired by a Japanese printing firm who were making prints of a famous Chinese scroll for the British Museum. In addition to his carving and printing skills, he was noted for his expertise at mounting artwork and restoration.

Urushibara lived in England and France until 1934, teaching woodblock printmaking to many prominent artists and producing his own prints. He was an integral part of the European color print movement, and probably taught printmaking to such artists as Walter J. Phillips, John Platt, and Allen Seaby. His techniques are mentioned in Phillips' book on printmaking. In addition, Urushibara converted the drawings and watercolors of other artists into woodblock prints. His most famous collaboration was with the English artist Frank Brangwyn.

Urushibara and Brangwyn first worked together in 1919 on a portfolio of woodblock prints called Bruges, depicting the Belgium city. These prints were designed by Brangwyn to illustrate a series of poems by Lawrence Binyon. They also worked together on prints of European bridges, and several illustrated books. In 1924, Urushibara produced a lavish portfolio of small prints called Ten Woodcuts by Yoshijiro Urushibara after designs by Frank Brangwyn. Only 270 copies of this portfolio were produced. Unlike many of the Western artists working with Japanese publishers, Brangwyn gave a great deal of credit to Urushibara, saying "He did a good deal of work with me - made coloured woodcuts after my watercolours - so good were some of 'em that it was difficult to tell the difference between the originals."

Urushibara carved and printed his own designs, but he is rarely thought of as a sosaku hanga printmaker, probably because his subject matter was more like that of shin hanga artists. He designed numerous kacho-e prints of formally arranged flowers and wildlife. Most of his landscape prints are atmospheric English or Italian scenes, reminiscent of Arthur Wesley Dow's compositions. Like Hiroshi Yoshida, Urushibara sometimes produced different versions of a print using the same blocks, called betsuzuri in Japanese. An example of this are his two prints of Stonehenge. The prints use many of the same blocks, but the daytime print features birds and a farmer herding sheep, while the night scene has an extra block for the moon. The idea for betsuzuri likely originated with the impressionist painter, Claude Monet, who often painted the same scene at different times of day.

Urushibara returned to Japan at the start of World War II, but he kept in contact with his European friends. In 1940, he again collaborated with Brangwyn on a portfolio entitled Leaves from the sketch books of Frank Brangwyn. Urushibara's prints were exhibited in the United States in 1945.

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