Long Nineteenth Century in Japanese Woodblock Prints

TSUKIOKA Yoshitoshi, Yaoya Oshichi in Pine, Bamboo and Plum: the Framed Painting at Yushima (Shôchikubai Yushima no kakegaku)
Meiji period (1868-1912), 1885
Ukiyo-e woodblock-printed vertical ôban [vertical] diptych; ink, color and embossing on paper
Loan from the Lee & Mary Jean Michels Collection
LMM.0554a,b

Long Nineteenth Century in Japanese Woodblock Prints

November 18, 2017 to July 01, 2018

The nineteenth century was a turning point in Japanese history, commonly associated with the transition from pre-modern feudal society of the Edo period (1615-1868) to the Western-style modernity of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). In the past, 1868 was considered to be a rupture, an overnight departure from the Japanese/East Asian way of life in all aspects of culture and society, after the forcible opening of Japan by the American Commodore Matthew Perry’s “Black Ships” a decade earlier. However, recent studies have shown that the cultural shift from Edo to Meiji was more gradual.

Featuring more than fifty superlative works from the distinguished private collection of Dr. Lee and Mary Jean Michels, the exhibition explores this transitional moment in Japanese history through woodblock prints. The works on view were selected, researched, and presented by seventeen students who participated in a Spring 2017 seminar co-taught by Akiko Walley, Maude I. Kerns Associate Professor of Japanese Art in the Department of History of Art & Architecture, and Anne Rose Kitagawa, JSMA’s  chief curator and curator of Asian art.  Synthesizing the approaches of art history and museum studies, the class learned about the history of Japanese prints, collecting, and exhibition planning and design. With generous support from the Michels, students were able to examine, research, and discuss the prints and help to conceptualize the exhibition, which incorporates information from their final presentations and papers.

For many years, Dr. Michels has generously shared his knowledge about and passion for Japanese woodblock prints with students, colleagues, and the wider community. We are proud that our students have been able to reciprocate his kindness and show their gratitude by helping to organize this presentation. The installation has also benefitted from a JSMA Academic Support Grant.