Uki-e: Western Perspective in Japanese Woodblock Prints

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    Utagawa Toyoharu (1735–1814). 'The Tenma Tenjin Festival at Night in Osaka.' From the series Perspective Pictures. Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), mid 1770s. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of James A. Michener, 1973 (16507).

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    Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769–1825). 'Seiten Temple.' From the series Elegant Perspective Pictures. Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c.1800. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (24620).

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December 22, 2016 - February 12, 2017
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

One of the defining characteristics of painting from the Italian Renaissance (14th–16th century) was the application of geometric theories to the depiction of three-dimensional space. Linear perspective, as this mathematically based approach to art is called, appeared in paintings as early as 1344 and was further systematized by later visionaries such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) and Piero della Francesca (c.1415–1492). 

Due to Japan’s policy of diplomatic isolation (sakoku) throughout the Edo period (1615–1868), Japanese artists did not begin to adopt linear perspective until the 1730s, after woodblock print designers obtained copies of European engravings imported through Dejima Island in Southern Japan, the nation’s only legal port for international trade. The perspectival studies produced by these print artists were known as uki-e, or “floating images.”

This rotation focuses upon the early pioneers of the uki-e genre. The Robert F. Lange Gallery displays works by Utagawa Toyoharu (1735–1814) and Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769–1825), while the alcove of the nearby Japan Gallery includes examples by Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820), Kitao Masayoshi / Kuwagata Keisai (1764–1824), and other designers.

The Robert F. Lange Foundation supports the conservation and digitization of the museum’s Japanese woodblock print collection.