dated within the image at upper left, 1924, followed by artist's seal Koka, published by Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publishing Committee for Yamamura Koka's Prints)
dai oban tate-e 11 1/8 in., 41.3 by 28.4 cm
Although born with the name Yoshitaka, this Tokyo artist used the art name Koka for paintings and usually employed the art name Toyonari for woodblock prints. He studied with Ogata Gekko (1859-1920) and graduated in 1907 from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in Japanese-style painting. In 1916, publisher Watanabe Shozaburo saw one of Koka’s actor paintings exhibited at Inten and asked to make a print from it. Watanabe subsequently published three more actor prints by Koka, the last of which was issued in 1919. From 1920, Koka primarily self-published with the Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publishing Committee for Yamamura Koka Prints).
In 1924 Koka published Dancing at the New Carlton Cafe as part of an untitled set of 10 prints which included landscapes, beautiful women, and bird and flower subjects. The dynamic composition of the interior view holds an unique place among all of Koka’s prints and, indeed, among shin hanga prints in general. It believed to be the first moga (modern girl) woodblock print and depicts taxi dancers at a trendy Shanghai hotel café. Displaying all the classic emblems of the moga, Koka’s women wear fashionable Western-style clothes of the Roaring Twenties, sport bobbed hair, makeup, and jewelry, and are enjoying cocktails. Although the precise ethnicity of the dancers is unclear, Shanghai had a large influx of White Russian refugees in 1922 after the Russian Civil War and it is well-documented that many such Russian women became taxi dancers in Shanghai’s famous cafés and nightclubs.
Koka employs bright, vivid colors to illustrate a nightlife scene full of gin, jazz, and carnal abandon. The woman’s fan is richly printed with a gold metallic, and its presence and the cut of the women’s clothes suggest that it is a hot summer evening. The background is also covered in a thin layer of shimmering mica, which further adds to the richness of the print while simultaneously conveying images of figures dancing in a cloud of cigarette smoke and bright lights.
Until recently this print had been erroneously known as 'Dancing at the New Carlton Hotel in Shanghai'- a hotel which apparently did not exist. In Seven Masters, Marks identifies the location as the Carlton Café, as well as illustrates an image of a painting (whereabouts unknown) of the same subject which Koka had exhibited at the 10th Japan Art Institute Experiments Exhibition in March 1924, and again at the Osaka City Art Association's first exhibition in May of the same year.
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, pp. 70-71, fig. 8 (print), fig. 9 (postcard of missing painting), pp. 207-213 (on print publishing)