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Kitano Tsunetomi


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Kitano Tsunetomi was a well known bijin-ga printmaker and painter. His woodblock prints have a painterly quality, and look very similar to the scroll paintings on which they were based. In 1880, he was born in Kanazawa with the name Tomitaro. As a young man, Tsunetomi worked as an apprentice to a woodblock carver after which he became a print carver for the newspaper Hokkoku Shinpo. He later moved to Osaka to study nihon-ga style painting under Inano Toshitsune, a student of Yoshitoshi. In 1901, he began working as an illustrator for the newspaper Osaka Shinbun.

Beginning in 1910, Tsunetomi began to exhibit paintings in the Bunten shows, and he won a prize in the 5th Bunten (1911) for his bijin-ga painting "Rain during Sunshine". He published a folio of four prints in 1918 titled "Spring and Autumn in the Licensed Quarter" (Kuruwa no shunju). These designs were self-carved and printed. In 1924, Tsunetomi founded an art school and publishing house called Hakuyodo. His students included the bijin-ga artists Kotani Chigusa and Shima Seien, who like Tsunetomi, designed woodblocks for the 1923 series, The Complete Works of Chikamatsu.

Around 1925, Tsunetomi's most famous woodblock print, Heron Maiden (Sagi musume), was published by Nezu Seitaro in a limited edition of 100 prints. Featuring a striking silvery mica background and gofun snowflakes, this print is a masterpiece of minimalist design. The carved lines in the woman's clothing and face capture the spontaneous quality of Tsunetomi's original brushstrokes while the rather stark colors - primarily white, gray, and black, punctuated by small areas of bright red - underscore both the feeling of winter and the otherworldliness of the subject matter. During the 1980s, the Japanese publisher Ishukankokai recarved the blocks for Heron Maiden and issued a posthumous edition, also limited to 100 prints.

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