Kawai Senro (河井荃廬)

Senro KAWAI (male, June 15, 1871 - March 10, 1945) was a modern Japanese seal engraving artist.
After moving to China and studying under Shoseki GO, he devoted himself to spreading seal engraving and its development

Although his original last name was written as 川井, it was misspelled as 河井 when written in the birth certificate. His first name was Senro; however, he sometimes wrote the name Sen to shorten his name. His childhood name was spelled 徳松 (Tokumatsu) however later changed the spelling to 得松 (Tokumatsu) or 得 (Toku) in order to avoid overlapping with his teacher, Kaishin SHINODA's real name since it was considered rude. Bokusen was his original artist name yet later changed it to Seno, Senri and Senro. His other artist names included Usen, 蟫巣, 九節丈人, Chigendojin, Boseno, Bosenri, 六不刻庵, Keijutsudo and Hoshodo. He was from Kyoto.


He was born as the first son of Senemon KAWAI who was known as the skilled seal engraving artist in Teramachi, Kyoto. He enterd the 30th Kamigyo Elementary School (now known as Kyoto Ryuchi Junior High School). He had Hoyo GOYAMA as his teacher and became classmates with Naoyuki KUMAGAI whose family owned the Kyukyodo.
After graduation, he studied Chinese poetry under Sokyo HAYASHI and became Kaishin SHINODA's disciple to learn about seal engraving just before the age of 20,
At around this time, he purchased an epigraphy book from the Tanaka Bunkyudo and practiced its style of writing.
A few years later, Senro and Kumotsu SUGIYAMA established the distribution group of seal engravings with an advice from his teacher

At the age of 27, Senro surprisingly received a replay when he sent a letter to Shoseki GO due to great respect towards him. Although Shoseki gave him lessons in the letters, he developed even stronger desire to go to Qing, and therefore he went to Gifu Prefecture to sell his engravings to dilettantes in order to raise enough money to go to Qing. At the age of 29, despite of his father's death, he left his family business in a head clerk's hand and devoted himself to creating more art pieces. At the age of 30, he finally traveled to Qing and developed close bond with Shoseki in Shanghai City. Keitaro TANAKA from the Tanaka Bunkyudo went there with him. He visited Qing once or twice every year after that and brought back various cultural products to Japan. More seal engravings were produced than any other time in his life in order to raise enough money for the travel expenses. After receiving a recommendation letter from Shingoku RA and Konen O, he began selling his works in various places in China.

In 1903, he gave their parents' house in Kyoto to his younger brother Shoseki KAWAI and moved to Shitaya, Tokyo where he started a family. Not long after that, the Mitsuya family offered some support and let him live in a simple house (in Kudan Fujimicho) within their property. Because he had developed an eye for Chinese cultural products, he became an advisor for art collectors.
Around this time, a calligrapher Ichiroku IWAYA gave him the copybook printed from the works of old masters of calligraphy which had previously owned by Suo NUKINA and also offered the name Hoshogan

In 1914, he was one of the promoters to start the company, Xilin Society of Seal Arts which welcomed Shoseki GO as the first president, and worked as an employee with Uzan NAGAO after the establishment. One of the promoters, Shi O's seal was engraved by Senro. His relationship with Shoseki lasted until Shoseki died in 1927. He made the last visit to China with the representative of calligraphers' association in 1931 when Senro was 61.

Even when the bombing became more intense during the last period of the Pacific War, he did not evacuate saying no bombs would drop near the Imperial Palace. However, on March 10, 1945, he was killed due to aerial bombing, and his massive collection of calligraphic works and paintings as well as books were burnt down.

His Style of Work
His seal engraving style underwent constant change over the years. It was heavily influenced by his teacher Kaishin SHINODA's style when he was around the age of 20. It was influenced by Koju CHIN when he was around the age of 22. His style became complex after the age of 26 due to the influence from various artists like Sanko JO and Shoseki GO. He kept his original style even after becoming a disciple of Shoseki GO at the age of 30. Senro was the first person to use the Rikucho style calligraphy.

He rarely worked on seal engraving or calligraphy after his middle years. It was because he did not want any random seal engravings, even the ones he was not entirely proud of, to be passed on to the nex generation to represent his skills as an artist. Even when he was asked to create a seal of state for Manchukuo, he politely turned down this request.

His Research and Achievements
He researched on epigraphy thoroughly from early on and devoted himself to spreading the accurate knowledge of seal engravings in Japan. In 1907, he founded the Teibiinsha together with Randai NAKAMURA the first, Zoroku HAMAMURA the fifth, Chinsho OKAMOTO and Kanzan YAMADA. His seal engravings and his comrades' appeared serially in Nihon Shinbun and Asahi Shinbun. Especially with Nihon Shinbun, he became the judge to select seals which were sent from the public and make comments on them along with Zoroku HAMAMURA. Those seals and comments on them were published as a book called "Nihon Inso."

While visiting China frequently over the 30 years, he collected many beautiful calligraphic works and paintings as well as books.
He mainly collected Shiken CHO's calligraphic works and paintings and introduced his masterpieces to Japan by holding the Shiken CHO Exhibition in 1942
His collection of books was not just a massive collection of calligraphic works, epigraphs, and compilation of seal marks as he developed expert knowledge.

There was not only his collection of the copybook printed from the works of old masters of calligraphy but also replicas of Fusetsu NAKAMURA, the Mitsui family and Shingyoku RA's collections in the books he published.

Compilation of Seal Marks
"Nihon Inso" by Useki YAMAMOTO
"Bosenri Inzon"
It was distributed in his youth. "Senro Inzon" edited by Kajo UEMATSU in 1932. It was published without the permission of Senro. "Senro Inpu Jogezoku" edited by Togyo MATSUMARU from 白紅社 in 1956. It was a photographic replica of his collection which was published after his death. "Keijutudo Inzon" edited by Shoyukai, published in 1961. It was mostly about seals which were found from the ruins of his house.

"Senro KAWAI no Tenkoku" (Senro KAWAI's Seal Engraving) by Yasushi NISHIKAWA from Nigensha in 1978. His seal engravings were complied into one book.

[Original Japanese]