Itō Shinsui is an expert in beautiful women — or at least in painting them. An icon of the Shin-hanga (modern ukiyo-e) movement, Shinsui specifically excelled at bijin-ga: portraits of beautiful women.
What makes Shinsui’s prints so special? Women are certainly not a new topic in the art world, and definitely not in ukiyo-e. From the relatively tame depictions of women in daily life to the ornate attire of courtesans to the most extravagant depictions of pleasure a la Hokusai, there are numerous depictions of femininity in the woodblock dreamscape. However, Shinsui seems to understand womanhood. Arguably, his bijin-ga prints seem to have both an eye for sensuousness and a humane perspective to them. In Clock and Beauty, for instance, the carefully contoured woman is beginning to show signs of aging. Lines under her eyes and deeper shading around the eyes express the passage of time, while her figure set against the clock emphasizes the concept of morbidity. The subtle nature of these details and the stoicness of the woman’s beauty express a respect to the woman as a person.
Shinsui was also renowned for his landscape paintings, which are at once majestic and introspective.
Like his perceptive depictions of women, Shinsui’s landscapes are richly detailed and complex, attuned to Nature’s moods.
Itō Shinsui (1898-1972) was a prominent Nihonga painter and shin-hanga artist most active during the Taishō era (1912-1926) and Shôwa period (1926-1989). Although he was most famous for his bijin-ga (paintings of beautiful women), he also painted landscapes, and was known to paint a master image in watercolor that would later be reproduced as a woodblock print by his craftsmen — a revolutionary technique in his time. He died in 1972 due to cancer.
Some of Shinsui’s most famous works can be found here.