Taking up two rooms of the museum’s first floor, the show included a great variety of styles of prints. Classical pieces such as examples from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, or Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Road were represented, but there were many others we had not seen the like of before.
One of the very striking exhibits was a set of six prints by Hiroshi Yoshida, The Seto Inland Sea. Each one showed the same basic image of a moored ship in harbor, with the colors changed in each one, so as to depict pre-dawn, then morning, afternoon, evening, and night, with the sixth scene enshrouded in fog. Notes to the pieces confirmed our thoughts, that the artist had been influenced by Monet, with his studies of shifting light on haystacks or cathedrals.
Another, a tryptich, depicted an amazingly antic scene of a battle taking place on a rooftop. Two noble samurai are dueling, while a squad of feudal police and other samurai are trying to apprehend them with apparently small success. Titled, “Scene of the Battle on the Rooftop of Hoyukaku Pavilion,” by artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, it is an episode from a “semi-historical” novel called Nanso Satomi hakkenden (“The Tale of the Eight Loyal Dogs of the House of Satomi”).
There was also a fascinating series by Yoshitoshi, often referred to as the last great master of wood block printing, Handsome Heroes of the Suikoden. This series is based upon the 14th Century Chinese novel, The Water Margin. Each depicts one of the characters fighting a ghost, demon, or other eldritch creature. Published as a bound volume, each vividly colored image is roughly the size of a comic book or pulp magazine cover. Since each one incorporates a block of calligraphy, there is a strong impression of seeing the covers of a Japanese version of Weird Tales.
It was interesting also to see the evolution of wood block printing into the modern age. Always a commercial medium, 1931 saw a series, Modern Styles of Makeup, by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, a fashion-plate sort of work that presumably appeared in the pages of a newspaper or women’s magazine.
It’s a very worthwhile exhibit. The show continues through August 14th.
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