Monday, June 20, 2016

A Japanese Artist In Edwardian London: Yoshio Markino

Recently, the Director of the Scholten Gallery in New York City brought an auction item to my attention, knowing that it combined two of my favorite things: theatre and Japanese art.  The item was a large (31.5" x 51.5") framed London theatrical program that, per the auction description, "features Japanese-style woodblock prints."  While more in the nature of ephemera than fine art, I thought it would make an interesting conversation piece, and I was able to win it at the opening bid price.  There was no indication, however, who designed the souvenir program's woodblocks in the auction catalog.  Thanks, however, to Charles Vilnis at the Boston Book Company, I was able to determine in advance of the auction that the prints were designed by the Japanese expatriate artist Yoshio Markino (1869-1956).

December 26, 1903 opening night souvenir program for the play
The Darling of the Gods at His Majesty's Theatre, London,
with lithographs by Yoshio Markino
Personal Collection

More about this unusual program and Markino's woodblock prints in a moment, but first some background information on Markino's life to put his print career in the appropriate context.  Markino was born in Toyota, Japan where he took classes in English while teaching in a primary school and eventually went to Nagoya English-Japanese College.  After graduation, he borrowed money to travel to the United States in 1893 for "academic research."  Although born Yoshio Makino, at some point he anglicized his name to "Markino" which he thought would be easier for Westerners to pronounce.  In San Francisco, he studied at The Mark Hopkins Institute of Art (now the San Francisco Art Institute) while working at menial jobs.   In November 1897, after a few brief months working for a Japanese newspaper in New York City, he sailed to France with a letter of introduction to the Parisian painting dealer Hayashi Tadamasa, only to find that Hayashi was in Japan at the time.  At the recommendation of an old friend from art school, the following month Markino traveled on to London, which became his home base for most of the next 44 years.

Yoshio Markino during his London years
Courtesy of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures

Markino found modest employment working at the naval construction office at the Japanese Legation while doing charcoal cast drawings at South Kensington College of Science and taking night classes for two years at Goldsmiths Institute (later College).  One of Markino's instructors at Goldsmiths advised him to take up illustration work and, by 1901, Markino had several drawings published in The Studio magazine.  In 1902, he wrote a children's book called The Japanese Dumpy Book (republished as A Tale of Two Japs in 1905).  For six months, Markino shared rooms with the writer and poet Noguchi Yone.  He subsequently illustrated Noguchi's book From The Eastern Sea and, through Noguchi, developed a strong friendship with the writer Arthur Ransome, the elder cousin of Laurence Binyon.

Illustration by Yoshio Markino from The Japanese Dumpy Book (1902)

After Noguchi returned to New York City in 1903, Markino's fortunes waned, and he considered suicide.  The Victorian art critic Marion Spielmann, however, helped him out financially, and accepted some of his illustrations for the Magazine of Art.  In 1904, Markino moved to Chelsea, where both Spielmann and Ransome lived, and Chelsea became the subject of many of Markino's subsequent paintings.  In 1906, he had an agreement with the publisher Chatto & Windus to produce paintings to illustrate the book The Colour of London. That book was subsequently published (with an introduction by Spielmann) to great acclaim in 1907 and led to sixty of Markino's original paintings for the book being exhibited at the Clifford Gallery, a show attended by no less than Queen Alexandra.  Markino's romantic pictures of London's bridges, buildings, and parks, often shown on a foggy night and peopled with fashionable Edwardians were extremely popular, and led to painting trips to Paris (where he met Rodin) and Rome for the books The Colour of Paris and The Colour of Rome, respectively.

Chelsea Embankment (c. 1909-1910)
Courtesy of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

In 1910, Markino visited the Japan-British Exhibition and published the successful autobiographical book A Japanese Artist in London.  He would write several additional autobiographical books during the next decade, as well as continue to produce paintings to illustrate the books such as The Charm of London in 1912.  In 1914, Markino was asked to teach at School of Oriental Studies.

Illustration from a book of nursery rhymes by Yoshio Markino
(color lithograph)

Markino's book commissions dried up after WWI when the sort of illustrated books that Markino had contributed to fell out of fashion.  Women in England were finally given the right to vote (Markino was actually a supporter of the suffragettes and knew Mrs. Pankhurst), class divisions continued to erode, and the Jazz Age began to take hold.  Markino's paintings became less and less popular in England, out of step with the changing times.  After marrying a French woman in 1923, Markino spent three and a half years in New York City and Boston.  The increasing tensions between Great Britain and Japan in the thirties further dampened English interest in his paintings, and most of his paintings during that period were sold in the United States.  He also had two exhibitions of his work in Tokyo in the mid-thirties.  Markino, however, lived largely on his savings and occasional articles and lectures.  In 1942, Markino was forcibly repatriated to Japan, and did not resume painting until 1949.   He painted only intermittently thereafter until his death in 1956.

Leaving His Majesty's Theatre, The "Stalls" (c. 1907) by Yoshio Markino

Now, back to the program that starting this post in the first place.  In 1902, theatre impresario David Belasco and the writer John Luther Long collaborated on a play called The Darling of the Gods that opened on Broadway on December 3, 1902 about a samurai who was forced by the Emperor to relinquish his sword and the princess who he loved.  It ran for 182 performances, went on tour, and reopened on Broadway on September 16, 1903 for a return engagement.  (Belasco was also the author of the plays Madame Butterfly, based on a short story by Long, and The Girl of the Golden West, both of which were turned into operas by Giacomo Puccini.)  The Darling of the Gods was one in a string of plays at the turn of the century that attempted to capitalize on the public's fascination with all things Japanese.  The play's success in New York City led to a production in London with a different cast headed by the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree that opened at His Majesty's Theatre on December 26, 1903.  It ran for 165 performances, a respectable run in those days.

1903 Poster for The Darling of the Gods  designed by Sir Joseph Causton & Sons Ltd
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
(color lithograph)

I'm not quite sure how Markino became involved with The Darling of the Gods.  London's theatre district was a favorite subject for Markino to depict in his paintings but he could barely afford food at that time, let alone a theatre ticket.  Nonetheless, probably through the recommendation of someone he knew in the Bohemian circle of Pamela Colman Smith, Markino was hired to advise Tree, Lena Ashwell, and other actors about Japanese movement, makeup, costume, and manners.  (Markino would similarly assist Lawrence Irving about Japanese matters in a 1913 London production of Typhoon.)  The producers also commissioned Markino to paint several pictures depicting scenes from the play for a special opening night souvenir program.  (A similar souvenir program was issued in honor of the 100th London performance.)

Sample lithographic panels of the The Darling of the Gods souvenir program 
illustrating the concertina-style presentation of the lithographs

While I was pleased to learn that Markino was responsible for the souvenir program's artwork, I was disappointed to learn that it did not contain any woodblock prints, as represented by the auction house, only color lithographs.  As Charles Vilnis informed me, they bear stamps on their backs identifying the producer as "J. Miles and Co., Colour Printers, London."  In retrospect this seems obvious, as it would have been difficult to have had the designs painted by Markino during rehearsals and then have had woodblock prints made in Japan and shipped back in London in time for the play's opening.  Nor was there anyone in England that I'm aware of at the time sufficiently skilled to cut and print these particular designs in the quantities that would have been required.  Originally bound concertina-style, my prints had been disassembled, two panels at a time, for framing.  Further blurring the distinction between woodblock prints and lithographs was the fact that the printers duplicated in the paper the embossed texture pattern one tended to find in a Japanese crepe book, presumably through blind-printing.  As Charles Vilnis notes, the Japanese crepe paper book was itself "a Japanese reaction to Japanese-influenced Western art" and the result here is "truly a product of its age, a tour de force of turn of the century cultural interactions between Japan and the West."

Two lithographic panels of the The Darling of the Gods souvenir program 
illustrating the crepe book effect of the lithographs

It is difficult for me to take good, clear images of my Darling of the Gods lithographs since they are under glass, so I reproduce here with permission a set from the Boston Book Company's website:

Although missing from my framed presentation, at least some versions of this souvenir program include an additional two panels:

Color lithograph (1903) designed by Yoshio Markino

Original wash painting with pencil (1903) by Yoshio Markino

Although this souvenir program did not contain woodblock prints, Markino, however, did design several woodblock prints during the course of his career.  None of these prints are titled or dated, and they appear in the literature under a variety of descriptive (and sometimes entirely inconsistent) titles.  Markino's most famous print is likely Buckingham Palace, London, Seen From Green Park.  Unlike with the The Darling of the Gods lithographs, this print was made in Tokyo, with the blocks cut by Hasegawa (likely Hasegawa Hanatarō) and printed by Nishimura Kumakichi II.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Nishimura printed Ishii Hakutei's Twelve Views of Tokyo series of prints (1910-1916).  Hakutei met Markino in 1911 during his travel to Europe, and may well have been influential in Markino's decision to have some of his paintings turned into woodblock prints.  Nishimura also was involved in printing early prints by Bertha Lum and Lilian Miller.

 Buckingham Palace, London, Seen From Green Park
at Dusk (c. 1911) by Yoshio Markino
Carved by Hasegawa Hanatarô; Printed by Nishimura Kumakichi II
Personal Collection
(color woodblock print)

The V&A dates the Buckingham Palace print to circa 1911, which seems reasonable to me.  Japonisme in England probably peaked in 1910 with the Japan-British Exhibition, and Markino would have been at the height of his popularity around that time.  Even if the figures hadn't been wearing Edwardian clothes, the overall look of the print is consistent with landscape prints made in Japan immediately prior to WWI.  A second print appears to have been made around the same time by the same Japanese craftsmen.  Some sources say it depicts Putney Bridge from the south; others claim it shows Battersea Bridge.

A Night Scene: A Bridge over the Thames (c. 1911) by Yoshio Markino
Carved by Hasegawa; Printed by Nishimura Kumakichi II
Courtesy of the Japan Print Gallery, London
(color woodblock print)

Markino also collaborated with Urushibara Mokuchu (Yoshijiro) on at least three prints.  One of these prints depicts the First Church of Christian Science in Boston, Massachusetts.  Since Markino did not return from Boston until late 1927, I think it's safe to conclude to say that Urushibara carved and printed that print design after that date.  Indeed, given Markino's financial situation in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, his collaborations with Urushibara were likely an attempt to generate supplemental income at a time when his paintings were not selling in England.  (Whether Markino knew Urushibara before his trip to the States is unclear; they certainly had a mutual friend in the form of Laurence Binyon.)
The First Church of Christian Science, Boston (c. 1927-1939) by Yoshio Markino
Carved and printed by Urushibara Mokuchu
Personal Collection
(color woodblock print)

 The Embankment, London (c. 1929) by Yoshio Markino
Carved and printed by Urushibara Mokuchu
Courtesy of
(color woodblock print)

While the above two prints are clearly post-WWI designs, one of Markino's collaborations with Urushibara is based on a pre-War painting:

Full Moon (1912) by Yoshio Markino
Courtesy of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art
(oil painting)

Misty Moon (aka Sun Behind Trees) (c. 1927-1939) by Yoshio Markino
Carved and printed by Urushibara Mokuchu
Courtesy of Chapman Fine Prints
(color woodblock print)

Interestingly, as Hilary Chapman has noted, Urushibara seems to have appropriated a variant of Markino's design as the background for one of his owl prints:

Owl on Branch (c. 1927-1939) by Urushibara Mokuchu
Courtesy of Chapman Fine Prints
(color woodblock print)

A Bonhams auction catalog also lists a possible fourth Markino collaboration with Urushibara called Chelsea Bridge, but I have not been able to locate a copy.  It is entirely possible that Bonhams' title is simple an alternate title for A Night Scene: A Bridge over the Thames.  If a reader is aware of a different Chelsea Bridge print or of any prints other woodblock prints designed by Markino, please let me know.

Yoshio Markino

Markino's misty London paintings translated well to the woodblock print format, so it's a pity that so few print designs appear to have been executed.  For more information on the life and work of Yoshio Markino, I recommend Edwardian London Through Japanese Eyes: The Art and Writings of Yoshio Markino, 1897-1915 (Brill 2011) by William S. Rodner.

If a comment box does not appear below, click on this link instead:

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Completing The Picture: The Amherst Project

Running through July 24th at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum is an exhibition called “Unimaginable By One Mind Alone: Exquisite Corpses from the William Green Collection of Japanese Prints.”  William T. Green was the founder of the Ukiyo-e Society of American (now called the Japanese Art Society of America) and a voracious collector of Japanese prints.  Green often purchased prints in combined lots that mixed good impressions of fine designs with poor impressions and single sheets that had become separated from the diptychs or triptychs of which they were originally a part.  As a consequence, nearly 200 prints in the 4,000+ Green print collection at the Mead Art Museum constitute “orphaned” prints.  It was the brainstorm of the show’s organizer, Bradley M. Bailey, Associate Curator of Asian Art at the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to make lemonade out of these orphaned lemons.

Left panel: Muppet: Frantically Busy (2016) by Akira Yamaguchi
Courtesy of Akira Yamaguchi and Mizuma Art Gallery, Tokyo
(ink on paper)
Right panel: Kabuki actor Kawarazaki Gonjurō I as Tekomai Masukichi, 
from the play The Weaving Together of the Sun, Moon, 
and Stars at Day and at Night (1859); gift of William Green
(woodblock print)

Bailey took a page from the Surrealists who, in Paris in 1925, gathered to play a game where each participant would write a fragment of a sentence that the next person, without seeing the prior fragment would complete.  According to the poet Simon Khan, it was Jacques Prévert who contributed the initial phrase “The Exquisite Corpse,” to which another contributed the phrase “will drink the new wine,” and so forth.  The Exquisite Corpse was, in Khan’s words, “unimaginable by one mind alone.”   Eventually, someone suggested they play the game with partial drawings instead of words.  “[A]stonishing amalgams,” Khan wrote, were created, fusing human heads to inanimate objects with reptilian legs ending in hooves.  This game would go on to inspire Surrealistic art and theories that explored the expression of the unconscious and the creative potential of collaboration.   

For the current exhibition, Amherst commissioned a number of contemporary artists to select orphaned prints from the Green Collection and extend them into full compositions in the spirit of the Exquisite Corpse.  Each participant was given complete freedom to create anything they could imagine so long as their creations were connected to the lines of the original print.

Left panel: Sweaty American (2016) by Ely Kim
Courtesy of Ely Kim
(digital print)
Right panel: After the Bath (1895), from the series Chiyoda, Inner Palace
by Yōshū Chikanobu; gift of William Green
Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
(woodblock print)

Most of the participating artists produced works in a medium other than woodblock prints.   Japanese artist Akira Yamaguchi contributed ink-and-watercolor drawings.  American artists Ely Kim contributed a pair of digital prints.  American photographer Gregory Vershbow photographed on expired, hand-processed color-positive film drawings that he had handcolored in Photoshop and printed off his computer.  The UK-based design team Studio Swine, founded by Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves, responded with a mixed-media sculpture.  The Scottish artist Paul Binnie, however, was the only artist to supply original woodblock prints to the project, in a limited edition of 15 each.

 A Picnic Party at Hagidera (c. 1780s) by Katsukawa Shunchō
Courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
(woodblock print triptych)

Binnie’s first print for the Amherst exhibition, A Record of Modern-Day Customs, forms the right panel for a horizontal triptych called A Picnic Party at Hagidera by Katsukawa Shunchō and employs colors designed to match the faded colors of Green's copy of the center panel of the triptych.  In keeping with the spirit of the comically absurd, dreamlike collaborations made by the Surrealists, Binnie composed a view of an imaginary Japan of the 1780s that had not been closed off to the West.  Just as Meiji-era prints sometimes depicted Japanese women wearing bonnets and Victorian-style hoopskirts with bustles, here Binnie prominently features a woman in a dress of the style of the court of Louis XVI wearing a high powdered wig surmounted by a galleon in full sail (called a “pouffe a la victoire”) and drinking tea from a Sévres-handled teacup.  There are other visual puns in the print that I will leave for eagle-eyed viewers to decipher.

Left: A Picnic Party at Hagidera (c. 1780s) by Katsukawa Shunchō;
gift of William Green.
Right: A Record of Modern-Day Customs (2015) by Paul Binnie
Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum 
(woodblock print diptych)

Larger view of the right panel, A Record of Modern-Day Customs (2015)
by Paul Binnie 
Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum 
(woodblock print)

Binnie also produced a commercial stand-alone variant of this design in a more modern (and unfaded) color scheme called Konze Fuzoku Kurabe (A Comparison of Contemporary World Fashion).  This stand-alone print, in an edition of 50, is available for sale at Japanese print galleries like the Saru Gallery in the Netherlands and Scholten Japanese Art in New York City.

Konze Fuzoku Kurabe (A Comparison of Contemporary World Fashion) (2015) by Paul Binnie
Personal Collection - Image courtesy of the Saru Gallery
(woodblock print)

Binnie’s second contribution forms the top half of a vertical samurai diptych from 1867.  Unlike with the previous design, where the right Shunchō panel was known but simply missing from Mead Art Museum’s collection, the artist of the bottom panel is a currently unknown Utagawa school artist and original top panel has not as yet been located.  Consequently, this gave Binnie considerable freedom to create a print in his own personal style unencumbered by anything other than a tiny portion of the samurai’s lower robe and the placement of the man's left hand. 
Top panel: Tattooed Man (2015) by Paul Binnie
Bottom panel: Unknown Utagawa school artist design; gift of William Green
Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
(woodblock print diptych)

In this print, called Tattooed Man, Binnie used an actual model for the top half of the samurai’s body.  The tattoo on the samurai’s chest, however, is imagined, loosely based on an e-kanban (hand-painted poster) painting by Torii Kotondo (1900-1976).   It depicts (on the viewer’s upper right) Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), a general of the Minamoto clan in the late Heian and early Kamakura period, called “Ushiwakamaru” in his youth.  Binnie has his model holding a short sword in a pose that echoes that of Ushiwakamaru in the tattoo.  The figure on the bottom left side of the tattoo is the warrior monk Benkei, who Ushiwakamaru vanquished in a famous duel on the Gojō bridge in Kyoto. Ushiwakamaru was taught the art of swordmanship as a boy by the tengu, a type of legendary spirit creatures found in Japanese folk religion depicted as anthropomorphized birds of prey with unusually long noses.  The tengu spirits depicted in the tattoo on the man’s arm are entirely Binnie’s own invention.

Handpainted poster by Torii Kotondo
Courtesy of Paul Binnie

Binnie’s commercial stand-alone variant, produced in an edition of 50, is called Ushiwakamaru to Benkei.  The print employs a different color scheme and somewhat different printing effects, most noticeably in the background of the print.  It is signed in silver kanji in the image, and the title of the print is blind printed in the lower left margin.

Ushiwakamaru to Benkei (2015) by Paul Binnie
Personal Collection - Image courtesy of the Saru Gallery
(woodblock print)

No doubt some readers will view this exhibition as being in the nature of a gimmick or a stunt.  However, it should be noted that the Japanese artists have their own history of collaboration, known as "gassaku," that pre-dates the Surrealists.  These are hanging scroll paintings, hand scrolls, albums, or even screens executed by two or more artists.  Many were created at social events like New Year parties or literary gatherings to commemorate the event and who was present.   Sometimes the images were painted on the same sheet to form a harmonious design, sometimes with even interplay between the images.   Sometimes the images were painted on the same sheet divided by lines from one another, and sometimes they were painted on separate sheets that were then pasted together to form a collage of seemingly unrelated images.  (For more information on gassaku, see Gassaku: Japanese Co-Productions by Jon de Jong, Andon 76 at 52-61 (2004).)

Even in the case of woodblock prints, print collaborations exist, especially between teacher and pupil.  For example, one artist may draw the figures while another might depict the background landscape.  However, examples with different artists designing different panels also exist, as in this early diptych collaboration by Katsukawa Shunchō and Shunkōsai Hokushū:

Left Panel: Arashi Kichisaburō II as Kowari Dennai in the play
Katakiuchi ura no asagiri (Revenge along the Bay in Morning Fog) (1815)
by Katsukawa Shunchō
Right Panel: Kano Minshi I as the daughter Okiyo in the same play 
by Shunkōsai Hokushū
Courtesy of the Lyon Collection
(woodblock print diptych)

Thus, the Amherst project can be seen as a modern-day variant of a Japanese tradition that is in fact several hundred years old.

If a comment box does not appear below, click on this link instead: