Yamamura Koka
Toyonari (Yamamura Koka), 1885-1942

Dancing at the New Carlton Hotel in Shanghai
(Odori Shanhai Nyu Karuton shoken)

sealed in image at upper left, Koka, and dated 1924; artist's rectangular seal, Toyonari, on upper left margin , published by Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publishing Committee for Yamamura Koka's Prints)

dai oban tate-e 16 1/4 by 11 in., 41.2 by 28 cm

Although born with the name Yoshitaka, this Tokyo artist used the art name Koka for paintings and usually employed the art name Toyonari for woodblock prints. He studied with Ogata Gekko (1859-1920) and graduated in 1907 from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in Japanese-style painting. In 1916, publisher Watanabe Shozaburo saw one of Koka's actor paintings exhibited at Inten and asked to make a print from it. Watanabe subsequently published an important series of 12 okubi-e actor prints designed by Koka in 1920-1922.

While Koka would also design landscape, animal, and still life prints, "Dancing at the New Carlton Hotel" holds an unique place among all of Koka's prints and, indeed, among shin hanga prints in general. It believed to be the first moga (modern girl) woodblock print and depicts taxi dancers at a trendy Shanghai hotel café. Displaying all the classic emblems of the moga, Koka's women wear fashionable Western-style clothes of the Roaring Twenties, sport bobbed hair, makeup, and jewelry, and are enjoying cocktails. Although the precise ethnicity of the dancers is unclear, Shanghai had a large influx of White Russian refugees in 1922 after the Russian Civil War and it is well-documented that many such Russian women became taxi dancers in Shanghai's famous cafés and nightclubs.

Koka employs bright, vivid colors to illustrate a nightlife scene full of gin, jazz, and carnal abandon. The woman's fan is richly printed with a gold metallic, and its presence and the cut of the women's clothes suggest that it is a hot summer evening. Koka's use of the gomazuri (sesame printing) technique appears to be designed to suggest the frenetic movement of the dancers in the background. The background is also covered in a thin layer of shimmering mica, which further adds to the richness of the print while simultaneously conveying images of figures dancing in a cloud of cigarette smoke and bright lights.

References:
Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, 1992, p. 172
Brown, Kendall H., Light in Darkness: Woman in Japanese Prints of Early Showa (1926-1945), 1996, p. 67, cat. 74
Reigle Newland, Amy, and Hamanaka Shinji, The Female Image: 20th Century Prints of Japanese Beauties, 2000, no. 115
Nihon no hanga III 1921-1930, Toshi to onna to hikari to kage to (Japanese Prints III, 1921-1930: Cities and Women, Lights and Shadows), Chiba City Museum of Art, 2001, p. 127, no. 275
Brown, Kendall H., and Sharon A. Minichiello, Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia and Deco, pp. 32-33, pl. 1
Reigle Newland, Amy, gen. ed., Printed to Perfection: Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 2004, p. 85, no. 70
Beautiful Shin-Hanga - Revitalization of Ukiyo-e, Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2009, p. 104, cat. 3-5

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