Picturesque Prints: Traditional Japanese Woodblock Art in the 20th Century

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    Kawase Hasui (1883 – 1957), The Washington Monument on the Potomac River, Japan, Shöwa period, 1935, Color woodblock print, 38.1 x 26.0 cm, Gift of Philip H. Roach, Jr., 1999, (26637)

May 27, 2010 - August 01, 2010
Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery (21)

Exhibition Overview

Picturesque Prints presents a selection of modern Japanese shin hanga (new prints) landscapes donated to the Academy by local collector Philip H. Roach Jr. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Roach has donated to the Academy more than 1,200 modern Japanese prints, which he began collecting in 1950. A retired architect from New Orleans, he says that modern prints inspired his designs from the moment he bought his first one.

Publisher Watanabe Shözaburö (1885-1962) started the shin hanga movement during the early 20th century and artists and intellectuals who endeavored to revitalize the traditional Japanese art form of ukiyo-e prints further developed the genre. At a time when there was intense interest in European and American art in Japan and earlier ukiyo-e was avidly collected abroad, shin hanga helped to establish a modern national artistic identity within the international art world.

Watanabe, a dealer who exported ukiyo-e prints to Europe and the United States, felt that although conventional ukiyo-e had its strengths, the Japanese woodblock prints of his time lacked novelty and creativity. He was inspired by Western art, particularly watercolor paintings, which were imbued with light and movement. He began to envision contemporary Japanese woodblock prints that incorporated a similar aesthetic.

Watanabe’s achievements in this area motivated other publishers and artists to elaborate upon the new style of Japanese woodblock prints he had established. The subject matter of most shin hanga was the same as traditional ukiyo-e, and included the “birds and flowers” and landscapes seen in this exhibition. However, shin hanga artists such as Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) borrowed the Western technique of chiaroscuro (the depiction of light and shadow) as well as Impressionistic methods of portraying vibrations upon the water’s surface and hazy atmospheres with soft, pleasant colors. The resulting shin hanga soon gained popularity among domestic and foreign audiences.—Sawako Takemura Chang, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art & Robert F. Lange Foundation Digital Imaging Manager