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Women with Umbrellas

The umbrella or wagasa, made of oiled paper and bamboo, was a common article of everyday life in early 20th century Japan. Umbrellas were used not only to ward off the rain and snow, but also for decorative and ceremonial purposes. Although rarely utilized as a functional object today, the paper umbrella is still a powerfully evocative symbol of traditional Japan.

Figures with umbrellas are frequently seen in shin hanga, probably because they appealed to Western collectors with their romantic notions of pre-industrial Japan. Woodblock artists used the umbrella in various ways to add visual interest to their prints. As a graphic device, the umbrella could provide a splash of bright color to a snow scene or enliven a rainy landscape. (In the case of Kawase Hasui's woodblock prints, the vivid umbrella colors may have actually been dictated by Watanabe, Hasui's publisher. Many of the umbrellas in Hasui's watercolors are not as brightly colored.)

In portrait prints, the umbrella was often used to frame and set off the subject of a print. There are numerous examples, including Natori Shunsen's actor print Sawamura Sojuro as Narihira Reizo and Ito Shinsui's print Snowstorm. In other prints, umbrellas served to conceal or partially conceal figures from view. Examples of this include Snow at Yanagibashi by Ohara Shoson, and Rain Blossoms, Japan by Lilian Miller. In Miller's print, the people are only shadowy outlines, barely noticeable under the bold graphic presence of the umbrellas. In the print, Returning Home, Fritz Capelari utilizes the overlapping shapes of multiple umbrellas to create a design that verges on abstraction. The people holding the umbrellas are only mysterious shapes, while the umbrellas are the focal point of the design.

Peony Snowflakes
by Torii Kotondo

Returning Home
by Fritz Capelari

Snow at Yanagibashi
by Ohara Shoson

Bamboo Road
by Bertha Lum

Snow at Zozoji Temple
by Kawase Hasui

Night Snow
by Ito Shinsui

Edo Castle
by Hiroshi Yoshida

Woman in Rainstorm
by Fritz Capelari

Snow Storm
by Ito Shinsui

The bridge, Matsue Ohashi
by Oda Kazuma

by Toshi Yoshida

by Torii Kotondo

Woman in Snow
by Fritz Capelari

Rain Blossoms, Japan
by Lilian Miller

Blue and White
by Elizabeth Keith

Snow at Tsukijima
by Kawase Hasui

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