May 15, 2014
July 13, 2014
Honolulu Museum of Art
During the late Meiji period (1868-1912) in Japan, popular fiction, particularly romance novels that highlighted the plights and tribulations of female protagonists, enjoyed enormous commercial success. Kuchi-e (Japanese woodblock prints produced as frontispieces for these texts) is a genre of Japanese art that, thanks to collector Philip Roach (b. 1934), has finally begun to receive the art historical recognition it deserves.
The production of kuchi-e prints coincides with the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and this rotation focuses on prints that depict female reactions to that war—their anxieties about loved ones in danger and their mourning of those who died. Kuchi-e artists such as Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), whose work is featured in the alcove of the Japan Gallery, also published large-scale depictions of battles from the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895). When paired, these two portrayals of war—one from the battlefield and the other from the home front—reveal how popular art in early 20th-century Japan functioned as propaganda to fuel public support of military campaigns. Also on display in this rotation are several novels within which the kuchi-e frontispieces were originally published.