Asai Chū 浅井忠 (1856-1907)
In 1873 he moved to Tokyo to study English and in 1875, at the age of 19, became a student of the Western-style painter Shinkurō Kunisawa (1847-1877) at his private art school, Shōgido. Shinkurō introduced him to the Italian painter Antonio Fontanesi (1818-1882), who had been brought to Japan by the Meiji government to introduce European oil painting, and he enrolled in the Ministry of Industry's, Kobu Bijutsu Gakko (Technical Fine Arts School)4, to study with Fontanesi.5
From Fontanesi "Asai acquired the Barbizon School’s empathic view of people and natural beauty. After Fontanesi returned to Italy, just as Western-style painting was beginning to develop in Japan, Asai developed his own style, producing lyrical landscapes portraying fishing and farming villages in a palette of greens and browns"6 associated with the Barbizan school, although after his two year stay in Paris he was to turn to a brighter palette. (See comparison between the 1890 and 1901 paintings shown below.)
After the departure of Fontanesi in 1878, Asai left the Kobu Bijutsu Gakko and formed the Jūichi-kai and in 1889 helped organize the Meiji Bijutsukai (Meiji Fine Art Society), the first group of Western-style painters in Japan.7
In October 1893, Asai married Naoshi Yasuko from a former Sakura clan.8
While in France, he stayed in Grez-sur-Loing, a village southwest of Fontainebleau, to paint and sketch for several months. "In Grez he lightened his palette considerably and created a series of plein-air works that, when he returned to Japan, helped transmit a fresh wave of inspiration to younger Japanese painters."12
In 1902, after returning to Japan, he was appointed professor at the Kyoto Koto Kōgei Gakkō (the Kyoto School of Arts and Crafts), and founded the Kansai Bijutsu-in (the Kansai Arts Institute) and the Shōgoin Yōga Kenkyūsho. He also "opened an atelier in Kyoto for his monjin [students] and christened it the Yoga Kenkujo."13 His students included Yasui Sōtarō (1888-1955), Ryūzaburō Umehara (1888-1986), Suda Kunitarō (1891-1961), Ishii Hakutei (1882-1958), Tsuda Seifu (1880-1978) and Maekawa Senpan (1888-1960) among many others.
He formed the Yutoen group with young ceramic artists to promote ceramic design and with lacquerware artisans formed the Kyoshitsuen group, both embracing an "enthusiastic new design sensibility."14 During his later years in Kyoto "he was involved in industrial design projects reflecting his encounter with Art Nouveau in Paris."15
In the final year of his life in 1907, Asai became the judge for the first national Ministry of Education sponsored art exhibition. He also established the Kyundo to create ceramics from his original designs.16 "A teacher until his death, Asai was an important conduit for new ideas which enriched both oil painting and understanding of modern Western art in Japan."17
Many of Asai’s works are deemed to be important and the Agency For Cultural Affairs in Japan recognizes them as “Important Cultural Properties”.
While not a print-maker per se, a number of his designs have been turned into single-sheet woodblock prints or woodblock printed pages of books by the publisher Unsodo, such as the 12 print series of ōtsue designs used on ceramic plates (currently available from Unsodo and shown below) and the book Mokugo zuanshu, issued by Unsodo in 1908, devoted to his designs for applied arts (also shown below.)
Mokugo zuanshu, 1908 by Unsodo Publishing
Published posthumously by his friends devoted to his designs for applied arts in a style influenced by the Rimpa school, the folk paintings of Otsu and French Art Nouveau.
24 fine woodblock colour illustrations and 41 plates with many b/w photographs of original drawings, paintings, ceramics, lacquers, small sculptures and textiles.
[as described in Catalog 12,issued by Morra Japanese Art]
In addition to the above, Asai designed original illustrations for books, some produced using woodblock such as A Poetry Contest on Contemporary Customs in Fifty Turns (Tōsei fūzoku gojūban utaawase), published in 1907 by Yoshikawa Hanshichi, four pages of which are shown below.
He taught prominent print-makers such as Ishii Hakutei and Maekawa Senpan and Hillier states that his influence "runs through both the Shin Hanga and Sosaku Hanga movements..." and "[a]s the master of such artists as Ishii Hakutei, Umeharu Ryūzaburō, Maekawa Sempan and Nakamura Fusetsu, Asai Chu must be seen as one of those 'bridging' artists between the traditional or nationalistic art and the cosmopolitan internationalism of Sosaku Hanga."18
Prints in Collection
[BELOW PRINTS GIFTED TO THE JORDAN SCHNITZER MUSEUM OF ART, UNIVERSITY OF OREGON]
click on thumbnail for print details