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Impression of a Certain Violinist (Portrait Of Suwa Nejiko)

Ueno Zoo (Ueno Dōbutsuen) from the series Scenes of Last Tokyo

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Impression of a Certain Violinist

(Portrait Of Suwa Nejiko)

by Onchi Kōshirō, 1947

(1961 Memorial Edition)
Mount Fuji and Young Girl from the portfolio Loving Service Seal Hanga

IHL Cat. #116

About This Print

An authorized Memorial Edition, printed by Kôichi Hirai in 1961, of the artist's 1947 self-printed original edition.
Source: Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, The Graphic Art of Onchi Koshiro -Innovation and Tradition, Garland Press, New York, 1986, p. 179-181.
Impression of a Certain Violinist (Suwa Nejiko, 1947) was  sparked by the artist’s response to a specific event.  The portrait of Miss Suwa is associated with a poem by Onchi.  The Suwa poem, Impression of a Certain Violinist (Aru viorinisto no isho,) is dated October 12, 1947 and describes the specific event that was transmuted into the portrait.

Impression of a Certain Violinist
The bow rises energetically and passes through the air
The violinist’s thin body is lit up by the man-made light
What a yellow light
On the pale face
On the white silk of her clothes
This flesh that has come through a war-torn Europe
And now stands on the stage of the army occupying the fatherland
Ah the grating sound of string after string keeps gnawing at my marrow

How tragic art is
My heart becomes yellow
Even my tears become yellow

Onchi had been invited to a concert arranged for the Occupation forces in which Miss Suwa, one of Japan’s foremost violinists, was going to make a rare public performance.  The poem and the print record both the pain of the musician and Onchi’s heart-felt response to it.  The print is in a more simplified and abstract style than his other representational portraits but the very concrete images of the poem explain the distortions in representation.  The sharp contrasts of light and dark in the print are directly related to the strong yellow light that fell on her as she stood on-stage.  In a rare early state (Juda Collection), Onchi used a yellow block for the face and ground in place of the later white one to produce a poignantly sad effect.  The poem, a vital part of the portrait, strengthens the emotional effect of the visual image.

From the year of the invasion of China to the early years of the occupation, Onchi produced a series of portraits which show the artist made use of the restrictions of subject matter and form to produce a new and individual expression in a new genre.  His portraits share with his abstractions the emphasis on color and the lyrical expression of the artist’s own feelings.  Through his art, he transmuted the likeness of a particular individual into a richer statement of a universal human content.

Source: Viewing Japanese Prints website by John Fiorillo http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/sosakutexts/sosaku_pages/onchi3.html

The print depicts the violinist Suwa Nejiko in a concert given in 1946. Although untitled, it is known as Aru baiorinisuto no insho (Impression of a Certain Violinist) because in the following year, Onchi composed a poem with that title, dated October 12, 1947, which was based on his strong emotional response to the event. The verses speak of Suwa's pale face and white silk robes illuminated by a yellow light, her energetic playing before an occupation army audience grating upon Onchi's spirit. (There is at least one known earlier impression or trial proof with yellow color on the face and background in evocation of the stage lighting.) Onchi ends his poem with a lament for the tragedy of Suwa's art under such conditions, using the yellow color as a metaphor for his sadness. The portrait of Suwa blends representational and abstract elements with an effective use of stark contrasts and limited color. The shape of the violin is also used as a boldly drawn black frame for the composition, as well as for the shape of Suwa's head. Perhaps the repeated shape-within-shape motif implies the confinement of the Japanese spirit in the aftermath of war, as suggested by Onchi's poem.

Source: Modern Japanese Prints, An Art Reborn, Oliver Statler, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956, p 28-29, 185. Note: The frontispiece of this book has a small size (4.5’ x 5.75”) woodblock reproduction of Impression of a Certain Violinist created from newly carved blocks by The Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints.
"Because of Onchi’s great range, it is not easy to select a few outstanding prints, but among his portraits one must name Sakutaro Hagiwara, Shizuya Fujikake, and Impression of a Violinist ….

Artist and poet, his emotions were close to the surface, and theyquickly welled up in bursts of feeling.  In his notes he set down howhe came to make the tragic mask called Impression of a Violinist. It was 1947 [actually 1946] and he had been invited by his good friend William Hartnettto one of the concerts that Hartnett arranged for Occupationaudiences.  The evening was a triumph for Hartnett because he had beenable to persuade Nejiko Suwa, one of Japan’s great violinists, toplay.  Miss Suwa, a proud person and a perfectionist who seldom playsin public because of the impossibly high standards she sets forherself, had suffered in the war, and Onchi felt the undertones as hewatched her play to an American audience at a time when Japan’s defeatwas still fresh.  'A harsh electric light showed the strain in herface,' he wrote, 'and I saw tragedy there.  Suddenly my eyes wereblurred with tears.'”

Impression of a Violinist
The bow rises strongly into the air,
The artificial lights turned on this
violinist’s slender body,
How yellow they seem! –
On her pale face, on the white silk.
This body passed through a Europe
torn with war,
And stands now on the stage of an
occupied country.
Ah, the sounds of rubbing strings keep
knawing at one’s heart,
How sad a thing art is!
My heart turns yellow
My tears turn yellow too

Technical Information Supplied by Statler
Koshiro Onchi: Impression of a Violinist.  Polychrome impression, 16x12¾ in.  Published in 1947.  Carved, printed, and published by theartist.  Edition: 13 (Onchi planned an edition of 20 and numbered hisprints accordingly, but never completed the edition); in addition, sinceOnchi’s death, the professional printer Koichi Hirai has beencommissioned to print an indefinite number as a memorial edition. Blocks: 2 blocks of solid katsura; 3 printing stages.  Pigment: postercolor.  Paper: torinoko. Location: Honolulu Academy of the Arts and thecollection of the author.  Notes:  Onchi made this print after hearinga concert by Nejiko Suwa, as told in the text.  He also wrote acompanion poem, dated October 29, 1947, which has been translated asfollows (see above.) (The reader will note the emphasis [in the poem] on yellow;Onchi originally made the violinist’s face yellow but quicklyeliminated this touch.1)

1 According to George Kuwayama in Contemporary Japanese Prints, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1972, p. 22-23. yellow ink was used in  a “trial impression, unnumbered edition of 10.”

Original Print by Onchi

The below image is scanned from the limited edition (170 copies) book Prints of Onchi Koshiro, Keishosha Ltd., 1975.  This is likely the print's original state, created by Onchi shortly after the 1946 concert that sparked this image.  It varies significantly from other states of the print.  Onchi has titled this print Impretion einer geige zin, possibly a loose German translation of the commonly used English title, Impression of a Violinist. Note that this print is dated 1946, although all sources date the print to 1947. 

Impretion einer geige zin
Koshiro Onzi, 1946

Other Editions and Impressions

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Impression of a Violinist
Japanese, Shôwa era, 1947
Onchi Kôshirô, Japanese, 1891–1955
Signature: Onzi, stamped.Printer: Koichi Hirai, (Memorial edition, September, 1955) Date offirst ed.: 1947.
Asiatic Curator's Fund, 1956
Accession number: 56.329

Impressionof a Violinist (written title attached). One hand of the player holdsthe instrument, the other grips the poised bow, as though about tobegin playing. Black up-curving bands enclose the portrait at bothsides. Colors: black, grays, brown, red.

Jeanne Davidson Fine Prints
Impression of a Violinist (Portrait of Suwa Nejiko)
Date: No date
Signature: onzi
Publisher: Koichi Hirai, Memorial edition
Format:21 ½” x 15 ½”
Comment: Stamped  “onzi” lower image, Memorial edition sticker included (not attached)
Condition:Very good
Price: $2000

Mita Arts Print, Catalog 23 March 2006
($2,960) original edition by artist 1947
Yoseido Gallery
ed.AP, 40.5(cm)x32(cm), NOT FOR SALE, woodblock
From Modern Impressions – Japanese Prints from the Berman and CorazzaCollections, Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art atUrsinus College, 2005.
16 1/8 x 12 7/8” (image)

Thisunsigned, undated and untitled print is identified in several sourcesas Impression of a Violinist.  Kindai Nihon hanga takei dates it at1946, and Kuwayama and Statler date it at 1947.  Statler notes thatOnchi made only 13 prints, and that after Onchi’s death, anotherprinter made “an indefinite number as a memorial edition.”  It islikely that this print is from that edition. [my note: in comparingthis print with the Mita Arts Print and the Memorial Edition, it iscloser to the original edition.]

This collection's print - Memorial Edition printed by Kôichi Hirai

Publisher's Label (removed from print verso)

Impression of a Violinist (Portrait of Suwa Nejiko)
Kanji : あるバイオリニストの印象 (諏訪根自子像)
Date: 1947
Artist:Onchi Köshirö, 1891 - 1955
Carver:Onchi Köshirö, 1891 - 1955
Printer:Onchi Köshirö, 1891 - 1955
Dimensions: 21 7/16 x 15 9/16 in. (54.5 x 39.6 cm)
Medium: Color woodblock print
Credit Line: Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (21573)
Inventory Number: 21573

Impression of a Violinist (Portrait of Suwa Nejiko)
Kanji : あるバイオリニストの印象 (諏訪根自子像
Date: c. 1960s
Artist:Onchi Köshirö, 1891 - 1955
Carver:Onchi Köshirö, 1891 - 1955
Dimensions: 21 5/8 x 15 5/8 in. (54.9 x 39.7 cm)
Medium: Color woodblock print
Credit Line: Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (21609)
Inventory Number: 21609

 Photo courtesy of Donald L. Williams who acquired and
then donated the print pictured above to the Portland
Art Museum. The print Onchi is holding is the actual
print given to the Museum, shown to the right.

Impression of a Violinist: Portrait of Suwa Nejiko
Onchi Kōshirō (Japanese, 1891-1955)
Date 1947
Dimensions (H x W)
image: 16 in x 13 1/8 in; sheet: 21 3/8 in x 15 1/4 in
Inscriptions & Markings:
signature/date: "Onchi Koshiro 47", graphite, LR
signature: "Kôshirô Onzi", graphite, L.R.signature: "Onzi", printed 
Credit Line: Gift of Donald L. and Dolores E. Williams
Portland Art Museum, Accession Number 2010.21

Ms. Suwa and A Controversial Violin

According to a September 21, 2012 New York Times article, the violin that Ms. Suwa played, a Stradivarius, was given to her by the Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels during a 1943 German concert tour.  It is likely that the violin pictured in Onchi's print is that same Stradivarius.  To read the New York Times article and see its accompanying photos go to the bottom of this page and click on the attachments.

The Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, presenting a violin,
said to be a Stradivarius, to Nejiko Suwa in 1943

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #116
 Title Impression of a Violinist (Portrait of Suwa Nejiko)
 あるバイオリニストの印象 (諏訪根自子像) Aru baiorinisuto no insho
 also known as Impression of a Certain Violinist
 Onchi Kōshirō (1891-1955)
 Seal Memorial Edition seal
 Date originally 1947 by the artist this impression c. 1961 (label, see picture above, states "’61 Memorial Edition Published")
 Edition 1961 Memorial Edition Printed by Kôichi Hirai (not numbered)
 Publisher Artist’s family
 Printer Kôichi Hirai
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - tape removal marks corners verso and bottom edge verso, faint mat toning line, otherwise good state.  Print has been archivally matted and framed.
 Genre sosaku hanga (creative print)
 MiscellaneousMultiple editions of this print were made both by Onchi and later by his family commissioning a memorial edition from Kôichi Hirai in the mid-1950s (MFA Boston dates the first memorial edition in September 1955) and again in the early 1960s.
 H x W Paper 18 1/4 x 15 1/2 in. (46.4 x 39.4 cm)
 H x W Image 16 x 12 3/4 in. (40.6 x 32.4 cm)
 Collections This Print Harvard University Museums 1978.362 (posthumous edition circa 1960); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 56.329; Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College UC1989.2.032; Honolulu Academy of the Arts 21573 and 21609; Portland Art Museum 210.21
 Reference Literature George Kuwayama, Contemporary Japanese Prints, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Aug 29-Oct 22, 1972, p. 22, plate 2; Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, The Graphic Art of Onchi Koshiro -Innovation and Tradition Garland Press, New York, 1986, figure 114Oliver Statler, Modern Japanese Prints, An Art Reborn, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956, p 28-29, 185-186; Prints of Onchi Koshiro, Keishosha Ltd., 1975. (a limited edition of 170 copies), p.118, fig. 242.