Imagination, Power & Humor: The Art of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

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    Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861 ), Princess Takiyasha and the Skeleton-specter from the Story of Utö Yasutaka, Japan, Edo period, c. 1843 -1847, Gift of Victor S.K. Houston in honor of his wife, Pinao Brickwood Houston, 1941, (11641.06)

October 14, 2010 - December 19, 2010
Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery

Exhibition Overview

During the 19th century, ukiyo-e woodblock prints were dominated by the Utagawa School. Utagawa artists were so successful that they produced more than half of the surviving woodblock prints made during the Edo period, making this school the most prolific in the history of Japanese woodblock printing. The supremacy of the Utagawa School was largely due to its three most illustrious sons: Kunisada, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi. While Hiroshige is one of Japan’s most beloved artists, his contemporaries are less well known, having been overshadowed by his superb landscapes that capture Japan on the verge of modernization.

This exhibition focuses on the work of Kuniyoshi, who played an equally important role in developing the Utagawa repertoire. Especially prominent for his depictions of historical warriors (mushae), Kuniyoshi was also a remarkably varied artist, producing an estimated 20,000 designs, which include virtually every genre of ukiyo-e, from landscapes to Kabuki actor portraits.

Kuniyoshi’s art is characterized by its imaginary, powerful yet humorous themes, reflecting another aspect of late Edo society that expands upon the inheritance left behind by Hiroshige. Furthermore, Kuniyoshi played a key role in the transmission of the Utagawa School into the 20th century, counting among his students the greatest ukiyo-e artist of the Meiji period, Yoshitoshi, and through him such seminal figures as Itö Shinsui.

The exhibition draws from more than 250 prints by Kuniyoshi in the James A. and Mari Michener Collection, and includes superb impressions of many of the artist’s most famous works. -Sawako Takemura Chang, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art & Robert F. Lange Foundation Digital Imaging Manager