Snowy Night Legend by Yumeji Takehisa (1884 – 1934) Date c. 1910 – 1930.
Yumeji Takehisa has been considered as the main figure who propelled “Taisho romanticism.”. The dreamy, fragile looking girls Yumeji invented in his works were so popular during the period of 1900 -1930 that they became the cultural icon of the Taisho /early Showa eras. Many artists imitated this "Yumeji-look" in order to take advantage of Yumeji’s popularity. Even today, he has been one of the most beloved artists in Japan. In addition to his work as an artist, he was also a writer and a poet.
He was born in a small village where his father Kikuzo worked as a sake brewer and today the family's home stands as a museum open to the public. As a child he was a passionate drawer. While attending a high school in Kobe, which was affiliated to the University of Waseda, he discovered his fascination for different and exotic things. At that time he started writing short stories and poems as well as creating illustrations for a magazine. When his parents decided to move to the south of Kyushu Island, Yumeji Takehisa wanted to go to Tokyo; however, his parents instead sent him to the private university of Waseda where he made a lot of friends. Shusui Kotoku (1871 - 1911), a famous socialist and anarchist, was one of them. At the age of 19 Yumeji Takehisa began to be engaged in portraiture.
At the age of 23 Yumeji Takehisa married Tamaki Kishi who, much to his advantage, ran an art store; however after only two years they were divorced. Tamaki was his major model and the reason why he turned to bijin-ga, a type of Japanese art which is about beautiful women. Traditionally most Japanese woodblock artists make bijin-ga - images of beautiful women - sooner or later during their career. Many women of whom Yumeji Takehisa fell in love posed for him and became his lovers.
In 1916 Yumeji Takehisa became chief illustrator of Shin-Shojo (Fashionable Girl) and of Fujin no tomo (Women's Friend) magazines. Later on he restarted making illustrations for the Kodomo no kuni (Children Land) magazine.
In 1923 his further career was brought to a halt by the great Kanto earthquake. Most of his woodblocks were destroyed Yumeji Takehisa had to restart from the beginning. He worked very hard and at last in 1931 he was able to make a journey to the U.S., Germany and Italy in order to show his work. But it was his last trip. In 1933 he returned to Japan because of a serious disease. Yumeji Takehisa died in the sanitorium of Fujimi Hiland in 1934 and was buried in Tokyo.
Being active in the hanga (Japanese for "print") movement, Yumeiji Takehisa was influenced by modern Western art, out of which a new style developed: "Taisho romanticism". Takehisa became one of its major exponents - mainly in the field of color woodblocks. He filled the decorative element of this style with a melancholic, poetic atmosphere which formed a beautiful harmony with the charm of beautiful women.
The minimalistic, sometimes naive compositions made Yumeji Takehisa one of the most popular artists in Japan of his time. After his journeys to the United States of America and to Europe the Western influence became more dominant in his style, with the traditional style of the Japanese woodblock being more and more replaced by expressionism, abstraction and simplification.