Our fall exhibition offers a survey of ukiyo-e from the introduction of two-color printing in the 1740s up to the end of the eighteenth century. Paintings, woodblock prints, and illustrated books by Katsushika Hokusai (1760‒1849), artists of the Katsukawa School, and Kitagawa Utamaro (1754‒1896) are included. Suzuki Harunobu (1724–1770) is well represented, especially those examples of his oeuvre from the mid-1760s until his death in 1770, as are the theater prints and sumo wrestler portraits of Katsukawa Shunshō (1726‒1792) and Ippitsusai Bunchō (Act. 1755‒92). Japanese prints of this period were not just images of handsome actors and beautiful women, although many such prints appear in this exhibition. The backers and supporters of artists such as Harunobu were wealthy men with time on their hands, which they spent creatively in poetry circles amusing themselves writing witty verses which lampooned the hidebound rules of society. Their interests led artists to search the rich fields of classical literature in search of inspiration, which they cleverly employed to modernize satire.
Two paintings by Hokusai from the mid- 1790s are featured: Farmer Returning Home on His Horse, and Chōryō and Kōseki Kō. Hokusai painted these pictures in his mid- to late thirties, during the phase of his career known as his “Sōri” period from the name he used to sign his works after leaving the Katsukawa school. It was during this time of Hokusai’s life that he began fully to explore the immense range of themes and subjects available to him, ranging from episodes from Chinese and Japanese history, literature, and legend, to landscapes, avian and floral subjects, and pictures of elegant women.
Woodblock printed books have a long history, stretching back to the 16th century, but the creation of full-color printed books was still a recent phenomenon when Tsutaya Jūzaburō (1750–1797), Utamaro, and their associates published the “Insect Book” (Ehon mushi erami) in 1788. With fresh, vivid colors intact, the example included in the exhibition is a first edition in excellent condition, allowing us to experience the two-volume book in a state close to when it was first produced. A very fine first edition of Utamaro’s “Shell Book” (Shiohi no tsuto) will also be featured. A selection of works from the exhibition may be viewed here.
A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany this exhibition.