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Ogawa Usen (1868-1938)

Biographical Data


Ogawa Usen 小川芋銭 (1868-1938)
Sources: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 115; Mie Prefectural Art Museum website http://www.pref.mie.jp/bijutsu/hp/collection/works/usen_e.htm

Ogawa Usen (undated photo)
Ogawa Usen (1868-1938) was born in Edo with the given name ofTarō.  He later changed his name to Mokichi and he is also referred toas Sōjū Usen.  He studied Western style painting with Honda Kinkichirō (1885-1921).  He became a member of the Japan Fine Art Academy in1917.  He was also one of the eight original members of the Sango-kai, founded in 1915, which fostered a free exchange of ideas between the Western-style and Japanese-style painters in the group.

Usen also created woodcuts and cartoons in magazines and newspapers, working for the
Yomiuri shinbun and Heimin shinbun.

In 1896 he moved near the Ushiku swamp in Ibaraki Prefecture.   His most famous works are of the natural phenomena of this area and, in particular, of kappa (water imps, see image below.)  Usen saw kappa as "symbols of freedom in the realm of nature."1

Tree Spirits Out on an Early Summer Day
Light color on silk, 1921
 Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art
A Water Imp is Born of a Fresh Water Mussel
Japanese ink on paper, 1937
 Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art

There is a commemorative hall on the grounds of Usen's residence called"Ungyotei", which features displays of many of Usen's work and personaleffects.2  Also on the grounds is the below monument to Usen's water imps.

1 "The Metamorphosis of the Kappa Transformation of Folklore to Folklorism in Japan," Michael Dylan Foster, Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 57, 1998, p. 13 http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/afs/pdf/a1215.pdf

2 City of Ushiku, Ibaraki website http://www.city.ushiku.ibaraki.jp/section/shimin/english/lake.htm