Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga: Japanese Woodcuts from the Syracuse University Art Collection
November 4 to December 30, 2018
GLENS FALLS, New York—A new exhibition at The Hyde Collection chronicles the development of Japanese woodcuts during a key period in the nation’s history and highlights examples of their influence on modern Western artists.
Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga: Japanese Woodcuts from the Syracuse University Art Collectionopens Sunday, November 4, at the Museum and runs through December 30.
Ukiyo-e was an art movement patronized by Japan’s merchant class. Politically powerless during the Edo era (1603-1868) — indeed, Japan’s merchants were considered the lowest class in society, under the noble samurai, productive farmers, and useful artisans — they found an outlet for their wealth and energies in cheap, reproducible prints that portrayed their indulgent pleasures.
Ukiyo-e was quite unlike the ancient, tradition-bound art of Japan’s imperial and shogunate courts. The medium, woodcut prints, were cheap and expendable. The imagery epitomized the transitory pleasures it depicted: fashion, female beauty, theater, and the heroic derringer of heroes and gods.
Yet, for all its fancifulness, ukiyo-e also rendered the reality of Edo-era Japan through the portraiture of its leading courtesans and kabuki actors, and through the accurate portrayal of locations and professions.
The world of ukiyo-e Japan is brought to life with more than forty prints in Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga: Japanese Woodcuts from the Syracuse University Art Collection. Masters of this medium are represented, including the works of Utamaro, Kuniyoshi, Hokusai, Hiroshida, Tsuchiya Koitsu, and Yoshida Hiroshi.
With Japan’s opening to the West in 1853 and the influx of Western ideas, the movement slipped into decline, just as traditional eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century ukiyo-e became popular among the West’s avant-garde artists, such as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.
But between 1915 and 1940, the movement underwent a revival led by Japanese artists who were, in part, inspired by Impressionism. A soft, colorful, and painterly style evolved and was applied to traditional ukiyo-e subjects, such as the iconic images of Mt. Fuji by Shin Hanga printmakers Yoshida Hiroshi and Kawase Hasui, exhibited here.
“We present these ukiyo-e prints, not just as beautiful and unique examples of Japanese aesthetics, but also as an example of a non-Western art form that inspired American and European artists and helped change the course of Western art,” said Jonathan Canning, director of curatorial affairs and programming at The Hyde.
In a pendant exhibition, West Meets East, the Western response to ukiyo-e prints is explored through more than twenty-five prints from The Hyde’s permanent collection.
Among the artists represented are James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Laurence. The Hyde also presents its treasured masterpiece by Vincent van Gogh, Orchard with Arles in the Background, 1888. Through his use of a reed pen and cropped composition to depict an orchard budding into life in early spring, van Gogh paid homage to traditional Japanese techniques and aesthetics.
“Late nineteenth-century Paris was infatuated with ukiyo-e prints. Vincent van Gogh owned some 400 prints. He took inspiration from the ukiyo-e focus on nature and the landscape. Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec adopted ukiyo-e’s vibrant colors and unexpected cropping of form,” said Nicole Herwig, curator of West Meets East.