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Japanese Woodblock Prints: Selections from The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection


March 22 - May 25

Although Japanese bamboo sculpture and woodblock printing are distinct art forms, they share a long and revered tradition of craftsmanship. One is the skillful transformation of bamboo grass into a three-dimensional object, the other produces a stunning print by carving an image into a woodblock plate.

Chronologically, the art of woodblock printing in Japan extends for a period of approximately three hundred years. Starting in the late seventeenth century with images of the so-called floating world – the entertainment district in Edo (now Tokyo) that included courtesans and actors – the medium evolved into a popular art form focusing on women and landscapes. These traditional prints are commonly referred to as ukiyo-e (or floating world pictures). During the late 1800s and into the middle of the twentieth century, artists reinvented this print tradition into a new type of print called shin hanga. The selections from the Judith and Joseph Barker collection on view here are all from the era of the shin hanga, focusing on the image of fashionable women, occasionally depicting them within a landscape.

The shin hanga prints in this collection continue the tradition of representing beautiful women also known as bijinga. During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Japanese government actively pursued a program of modernization, opening the country to Western influences. While shin hanga artists portrayed women in traditional ways, focusing on pre-modern manners and customs, they often incorporated elements of Western art into their work. Prints by modern artists often demonstrated a superior understanding of Western perspective, rendering the human anatomy with a greater sense of illusion in space. As the shin hanga genre of beautiful women progressed in the early twentieth century, it became the vehicle for representing the “modern girl” or modan garn.

The popularity of ukiyo-e and shin hanga extends far beyond the islands of Japan. Major museums in Great Britain, France, and the United States now have extensive holdings of Japanese woodblock prints. Cheekwood is honored to show case these selected prints from a private collection.

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