Hatō zu—meaning "wave" in Japanese—was created by Uehara Konen in 1910, in the midst of the Meiji Period, a moment of great change for Japanese culture and art. For the first time in centuries, Japan had opened its borders; American and European artists set sail to study the great masters of the woodblock tradition.
Waves as a subject in Japanese art, especially woodblocks, can be traced as far back as the 1600's and the beginning of the Edo period. Yet in Hatō zu we see the emergence of a modern style and new western influences, despite Uehara Konen's resistance to many of the changes around him.
The bright, saturated blues have an impressionistic styling, but also we see technology's subtly taking hold in the almost photographic composition that elegantly breaks from tradition.
Uehara Konen was born in 1878 in Asakusa, Tokyo, just as Japan was transforming from an isolated feudal society to the modern, Westernized Japan that we know today. The Meiji Era, as this period is known, ultimately caused a steady disappearance of the woodblock print. Konen continued to create woodblocks despite the rapid changes around him, albeit in the mōrō-tai (modernist style) popular from 1899 to 1909. Part of the “Sumida River School” (Blue River School), Konen was inspired by Western styles of painting, and you can see the influence in the colors, photographic perspective, and experimental nature of his work.
In 1907, Konen became the secretary of the Kokuga Gyokuseikai (National Painting Cultivation Society), which supported a modern school of painting in Japan. Konen also served in the Imperial Household, the Foreign Ministry, and as a juror for the Tokyo Metropolitan. He died on May 24th, 1940 in Tokyo.