Memories from the Metropolitan Museum: Japanese Woodblock Prints

No trip to the Big Apple is complete without a day at the Met. Unlike my previous chaotic visit in 2010, this time around, I went prepared with a shortlisted itinerary. My very first stop was at the Art of the Edo gallery.

Kabuki Actor Nakamura Tomijūrō I in a Female Dance Role, Katsukawa Shunshō, 1777

Kabuki Actor Nakamura Tomijūrō I in a Female Dance Role, Katsukawa Shunshō, 1777

In the Edo period (1603–1867) the chonin (merchant class) found themselves the greatest beneficiaries of the rapid economic growth during the time. Most were living it up, indulging in the best that money could afford – kabuki theatre, courtesans and geishas. The term ukiyo (floating world) came to describe this extravagant and hedonistic lifestyle. Printed or painted ukiyo-e images of this environment emerged in the late 17th century and were popular with the merchants, who were wealthy enough to buy these for their homes. With time, the ukiyo-e themes expanded to include famous romantic spots and eventually, in the final years of the nineteenth century, dramatic historical events.

 The Third Otani Hiroemon as an Outlaw Standing Near a Willow Tree, Katsukawa Shunshō, 1977

The 3rd Otani Hiroemon as an Outlaw Near a Willow Tree, Katsukawa Shunshō, 1977

Of course, the piece-De-resistance was getting to see Under the Wave off Kanagawa, a.k.a The Great Wave.

IMG_4118Under the Wave off Kanagawa is part of a woodblock print series titled Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, which the master artisan Katsushika Hokusai made between 1830 and 1833. Hoskusai apprenticed with Katsukawa Shunshō who is credited with introducing a new form of yakusha-e, prints depicting kabuki actors. The Mount Fuji series was made between 1830-32 when Hoskusai was well in his seventies.

IMG_4119The Met also houses some prints from the famous Reisho Tokaido (Fifty–Three Stations of the Tokaido) series by Utagawa Hiroshige. Unfortunately, the Arimatsu-Nagoya station that I wanted to see was not on display. However, I did manage to find this woodblock print where the kabuki actor appears to be wearing a kimono with a kumo shibori pattern.

Kabuki Actor Morita Kan’ya VIII, Tōshūsai Sharaku, 1974

Kabuki Actor Morita Kan’ya VIII, Tōshūsai Sharaku, 1974

My photos have a tint because of the dim lighting in the museum. If you’re interested in seeing the actual pictures, just click on the image, and it will re-direct to the The Metropolitan Online Collection. These essays Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style and Art of the Pleasure Quarters and the Ukiyo-e Style also provide a great overview on this subject!

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One response to “Memories from the Metropolitan Museum: Japanese Woodblock Prints

  1. Pingback: Memories from the Metropolitan Museum: Blue and White Porcelain | The Indigophile·

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