Chiura Obata (1885-1975)<br>Four modern prints
Lot 8298
Chiura Obata (1885-1975)
Four modern prints
Sold for US$ 9,150 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Chiura Obata (1885-1975)
Four modern prints
Each from the World Landscape Series, including: Death's Grave Pass, High Sierra, USA; Before Thunderstorm, Tuolumne Meadow, High Sierra, California; Passing Rain, High Sierra; and Full Moon, Pasadena, California; each with the mark of publisher Takamizawa to verso; very good impressions and color, foxing to top edge of 'Passing Rain,'toning to verso on 'Full Moon,' otherwise good conditions overall.
33.4 x 45.4cm


  • Chiura Obata was born in Japan in 1885. Raised in Sendai, he went to Tokyo in 1899 to study Japanese-style painting (nihonga) with Murata Tanryō (1874-1940). In 1903, like many young men of his time seeking opportunities abroad, Obata sailed for the United States. In San Francisco he found work as an artist and illustrator for two Japanese newspapers. By the 1920s, Obata was also active as a muralist, decorating walls for several major San Francisco department stores, including Gumps, G.T. Marsh, and The City of Paris. In 1924 he completed a set design for a production of Madame Butterfly by the San Francisco Opera.

    Throughout his early years in California, Obata traveled the state painting landscapes. In 1927 he spent the summer at Yosemite, sketching and painting the High Sierra scenery with fellow-artists Worth Ryder (1909-1966) and Robert Boardman Howard (1916-1975). The next year, Obata returned to Japan following his father’s death. While there, he engaged the Takamizawa Printmaking Studio (Tokyo) to produce a set of thirty-five woodblock prints closely based on his original watercolor paintings of Yosemite and other Northern California scenery.

    The resulting prints, collectively titled World Landscape Series, were stunning recreations of the original, luminous watercolor designs. A printing process involving dozens of blocks for a single print was rigorously supervised by the artist himself. Before leaving Japan, Obata submitted the prints to an exhibition in Tokyo’s Ueno Park, winning first prize for Lake Basin in the High Sierra. After returning to America in 1930, the series was shown in numerous venues, including the Legion of Honor, the California School of Fine Arts, Mills College and UC Berkeley.

    Despite positive reviews and considerable attention in the Bay Area press, Obata does not seem to have sold many copies of the World Landscape Series. Of the original edition, reportedly of 100, only a handful of complete series are known today, and even individual prints are extremely rare. Of those, an even smaller number of signed editions are known. The Obata family and the Achenbach Foundation each own a complete set. UC Berkeley owns an incomplete set, but none of the other Bay Area institutions where Obata exhibited own these prints. Occasionally individual prints surface on the art market, but the whereabouts of the bulk of the prints Obata brought back from Japan are unknown.

    The thirty-one prints offered here come from a set owned by a Bay Area family for at least fifty years. Of the original set, the external sleeve and four prints are missing: Foggy Morning, Van Ness Avenue, Moonlight, Point Lobos, Monterey, California, Ruin of Old Tioga Mine, and Striped Bass. Like the set owned by the Achenbach/Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the prints in this group are unsigned. Each bears the mark of Takamizawa Print Studio to verso, with a blank edition cartouche.
    Reference: Chiura Obata, Obata's Yosemite (Yosemite Association, 1993).