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An image of The universe (or Mr Contemplation) by TANINAKA Yasunori


(Japan 1897 – 1946)

The universe (or Mr Contemplation)
Alternative title:
Place of origin
Shôwa period 1926 - 1988 → Japan
Media category
Materials used
colour woodcut

17.3 x 23.0 cm

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
D G Wilson Bequest Fund 1999
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

Taninaka is considered one of the most original print artists of modern Japan. Together with Munakata Shikô, Taninaka was the most prominent artist of the Creative Print group called Shiro-to-kuro (White and black). The two share common characteristics: the works of both artists stand out from their contemporaries with their bold and powerful figurative images; they were not overly concerned about technical precision when cutting blocks and printing; and they both lived in extreme poverty in their younger days. However, unlike Munakata who achieved great international success after WWII, Taninaka died of starvation during the postwar food shortage.

Shiro-to-kuro regularly published magazines with original woodcut prints. This print seems to have come from issue no. 41 which was a special issue on Taninaka. It is one of his best known prints.

Taninaka's prints are some of the most important expressions of modern art in Japan. He depicts the complex psyche of the modern man: desire, imagination, alienation and longing for 'lost innocence'. An appealing characteristic of his work, which is a reflection of the intellectual trend of the time, is the ease with which he moves beyond the traditional cultural boundaries by ingesting Western icons to express the complexity of the modern, urban mind, without specific cultural identity. This characteristic sets Taninaka apart from Munakata Shikô whose works tend to seek their modern identity within the local cultural traditions.

Bibliography (6)

AJIOKA, Hanga: Japanese creative prints, '1930s-1950s: Consolidation of Hanga and the individualists', pg. 70-98, Sydney, 2000, 96 (colour illus.), 104, 111. 4.23

Chiaki Ajioka, Modern Boy Modern Girl: modernity in Japanese art 1910-1935, 'Hanga - images on the plate', pg. 115-120, Sydney, 1998, 119 (colour illus.), 172. 103.v

RYÔJI Kumata, Taninaka Yasunori hanga tengoku, Tokyo, 1982, illus.. 71

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Individuality in early 20th century works on paper', Sydney, 2003, 282 (colour illus.).

Tsutomu MIZUSAWA (Curator), Mobo moga: Nihon bijutsu-no 'kindai' 1910-1935, Kanagawa, 1998, 202 (illus.). 358. Note that this is the Japanese catalogue for the exhibition "Modern Boy, Modern Girl".

OGURA Tadao, Genshoku gendai Nihon no Bijutsu, Tokyo, 07 Oct 1978, 88 (colour illus.), 107 (illus.). 91

Exhibition history (3)


Modern Boy Modern Girl - modernity in Japanese art 1910-1935:

Hanga: Japanese creative prints, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Oct 2000–07 Jan 2001