30 April 2011

Kobayashi Kaichi: From Nouveau To Deco In Showa Japan

 I continue to find new things to admire in the Leonard Lauder Collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for instance these woodblock prints by  the little known artist from Kyoto, Kobayashi Kaichi.
Leonard Lauder (b. 1933),  son of Estee Lauder and brother of Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Galerie in Manhattan,  began collecting  postcards at  the age  of six.  By the time Lauder donated his collection to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2003, it numbered in the thousands.  

The public began to get an idea of the breadth of the collection the next year through an exhibition - and book - The Art of the Japanese Postcard.

Among other surprises, a neglected area of Japanese art emerged.  The early Showa period between the two world wars is often overlooked by westerners,  who focus instead on the revelation of ukiyo-e prints first seen in the west during the (ate 19th century.
After the devastating earthquake of 1923, the city of Tokyo modernized  as it rebuilt, and a new generation of young men and women adopted aspects of western sophistication in clothing, sports (skiing, golf), and art.   The mixture of influences from Art Nouveau and Art Deco is distinct from the western versions.

To the English-speaking audience, Kobayashi Kaichi (1896-1968) remains something of a  mystery.  Born in Kyoto, he created several sets of prints on popular themes for the Sakuraiya Publishers there during the 1920s.    The romance of youth was a favorite subject. and, although it may seem sentimental to our eyes, to his contemporaries these images expressed the height of westernized sophistication.   Taisho chic was essentially the style of the affluent urban Japanese, usually young and single, enamored of western clothes and movies.

What distinguishes Kobayashi Kaichi's work is its harmonious blend of disparate styles.  At a distance from the centers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, he was free to use the elements that fit his modern version of traditional Japanese prints.  His perspectives are arbitrary, his colors flat, and his inclusion of detail is governed by aesthetics, not reality.   In the series Evening of Sorrow, this universal personal drama of waiting is enacted against an imagined architectural background that seems to float somewhere between fin-de-siecle Vienna and a Hollywood film set.
Images: Kobayashi Kaichi, images undated, from the Leonard Lauder Collection at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
1.- 4.  from the series Evening Of Sorrow.
5. from the series Lyric Dolls: Sadness of Youth.
6. from the series Blue Birds.

7. Ace of Hearts from the series Youth.


Melinda9 said...

Those are some beautiful postcards - hope to see them if they're on display in Boston.

Jane said...

Melinda, if not Kobayashi Kaichi, then maybe something else from the Lauder collection. You can search it online at www.mfa.org, also.

Gerrie said...

Some very nice prints you've discovered, I like the soft pastels and elegant designs and allready payed Boston a digital visit.

Jane said...

Lately, the MFA website has been done quite a bit but usually it's a treasure trove.