Friedrich Capelari


Fuji from a Desolate Field

printed on noticeably thick paper, with artist's stylized seal at lower right corner, F Capelari, and publisher's round Watanabe seal above, ca. 1915-16

oban yoko-e 11 5/8 by 17 1/8 in., 29.5 by 43.5 cm

In the spring of 1915, the publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô (1885-1962) saw an exhibition of watercolors at a department store gallery by Fritz Capelari, an Austrian artist who had been living in Asia since 1911. Watanabe had been looking for an artist trained in Western-style painting with whom he could work on a new type of color woodblock print, but rooted in the traditions of Japanese ukiyo-e. Apparently he had already been turned down by Japanese artists, such as the Paris-trained painter Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924), who were not interested in sullying their reputations in the ‘fine art’ world by producing popular or decorative art. Foreigners in Japan would have been less burdened by the commercial implications of Watanabe’s vision and had little to risk by participating in his experiment. Capelari accepted an invitation from Watanabe to visit his shop and shortly thereafter the two began collaborating on producing woodblock prints. Within one year they completed 12 designs which included landscapes and figural prints.

To some, these prints could be considered the first shin-hanga (‘new prints’). Certainly it was the first time that Watanabe successfully recruited an artist from outside the traditional master-student system. And although many of the designs and subjects resonate with classic ukiyo-e, at the same time, the modern (or Western) influences are evident. He also used a higher quality paper that he had rarely used for his previous print productions, a financial investment indicative of Watanabe’s commitment to shin-hanga.

This particular composition, 'Fuji from a Desolate Field,' was particularly well-received at the time. Watanabe sent a copy (along with four other Capelari prints and one Charles W. Bartlett print) to the ukiyo-e scholar Kojima Usui in March 1916, who responded in an open letter published in the June 1916 edition of Bijutsu gaho, praising all of Capelari's work (while criticizing the one Bartlett print). Kojima Usui, who was in Los Angeles at the time, promised to donate his impression of 'Fuji from a Desolate Field' to the local Japanese Consulate.

Merritt, Points of Contrast, 1993, pp. 32-35 The New Wave, 1993, pp. 45-46, and pp. 209-210 Yokohama Museum of Art, Eyes Towards Asia: Ukiyo-e Artists from Abroad, 1996, p. 75, no. 82-a Koyama Shuko, Beautiful Shin-hanga: Revitalization of Ukiyo-e, Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2009, pp. 24-25, no. 1-31 and pp. 265-267

price: Sold


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Scholten Japanese Art
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