The Golden Age of Colour Prints

Ukiyo-e from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

In late May members of the Art History Chapter traveled by car or train to the Shepparton Art Museum, to view an exhibition of 18th and early 19th century Japanese colour prints on loan from the Boston Fine Arts Gallery. Kirsten Paisley the Museum’s Director in 2010 was visiting Toyoake in Japan, Shepparton’s sister city, and expressed an interest in the exhibition which came to Australia when the tsunami led to a cancellation in Japan.

The prints are derived from the extensive 50,000 Bigelow collection in Boston, and featured in the main a wide range of prints by three artists (Kiyonaga, Utamaro, Sharaku), and one or two prints by other artists (Shunsho, Shigemasa, Eishi, Toyokuni, Goko, Toyohiro, Masayoshi). Ukiyo-e or Pictures of the Floating World on display, were multi – coloured prints made using successive impressions of carefully aligned and carved wooden blocks. Up to 400 prints were made in a run, and were populist artefacts sometimes sold by street vendors.

A feature of the exhibition were the number of stories told over 2 – 4 adjacent panels encompassed in a single frame. The end result reflected the combined effort of artist, carver, printer, and publisher producing a product that became highly collectable, and with their blocks of solid colour later influenced European Impressionist painters.

The visit was enhanced by a floor talk and tour by a local guide, and the availability of a catalogue with articles by Sarah Thompson from Boston and Wayne Crothers from the NGV.

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