Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism

Art Magazines, Artistic Collectives, and the Early Avant-garde


Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism examines the most significant Japanese art and literary magazine of the early twentieth century, Shirakaba (White Birch, 1910–1923). In this volume Erin Schoneveld explores the fluid relationship that existed between different types of modern visual media, exhibition formats, and artistic practices embraced by the Shirakaba-ha (White Birch Society). Schoneveld provides a new comparative framework for understanding how the avant-garde pursuit of individuality during Japan’s Taishō period stood in opposition to state-sponsored modernism and how this played out in the emerging media of art magazines. This book analyzes key moments in modern Japanese art and intellectual history by focusing on the artists most closely affiliated with Shirakaba, including Takamura Kōtarō, Umehara Ryūzaburō, and Kishida Ryūsei, who selectively engaged with and transformed modernist idioms of individualism and self-expression to create a new artistic style that gave visual form to their own subjective reality. Drawing upon archival research that includes numerous articles, images, and exhibitions reviews from Shirakaba, as well as a complete translation of Yanagi Sōetsu’s seminal essay, “The Revolutionary Artist” (Kakumei no gaka), Schoneveld demonstrates that, contrary to the received narrative that posits Japanese modernism as merely derivative, the debate around modernism among Japan’s early avant-garde was lively, contested, and self-reflexive.

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Preliminary Material
Pages: i–xii
Pages: 1–20
The Art Magazine
Pages: 21–50
Shirakaba and Modernism in Japan
The “Conventions of Painting” Debate and “The Revolutionary Artist”
Pages: 85–112
Revolutionary Art, Revolutionary Artists
Takamura Kōtarō, Umehara Ryūzaburō, and Kishida Ryūsei
Pages: 113–160
From the Avant-garde to the Institution
The Evolving Exhibition Practices of Shirakaba
Pages: 161–200
The Legacy of Shirakaba
Pages: 201–207
Pages: 208–220
Pages: 221–239
List of Characters
Pages: 240–242
Pages: 243–256
Pages: 257–262
Erin Schoneveld, Ph.D. (2012), University of Pennsylvania, is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages & Cultures and Visual Studies at Haverford College.
Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism provides a wealth of historical and visual detail on Japanese responses and approaches to global postimpressionism, including how the works of European postimpressionists were introduced to Japan, written correspondence between European artists and Japanese intellectuals, and Japanese artists’ own approaches to postimpressionist styles. Schoneveld’s book clarifi es this important transitional period from the relatively objective representation of nature that impressionism had emphasized to the much more subjective personal interpretation that postimpressionism embodied, and thus bridges our understanding of the early Western-style art of Meiji Japan to the more aggressively avant-garde movements of later periods.
Chinghsin Wu in: The Journal of Japanese Studies, Volume 48, Number 1, Winter 2022, pp. 239-243.
All interested in the relationship between Japanese modern art, literature, and visual culture, Japan-European cultural exchange of the early 20th century, and Japan’s seminal role in the global development of modernism.
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