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.

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