August 4, 1958:
An exhibition of early Japanese prints by six important masters of the Ukiyo-e School will be on view on the 2nd floor from August 4 through October 5. Selected by George Lee, Curator of the Oriental Department, the seven prints, considered among the best in the Museum collection, range in technique from monochrome ink printing through hand-colored prints to early printing in color.
It was during the Ukiyo-e period that wood engraving developed from simple and crudely executed book illustrations to an outstanding artistic form for which Japanese art was to become famous and highly influential in Western European art during the 19th century. Ukiyo-e means "Passing world picture.” Its school first developed during the early part of the 18th century. A popular school, its exponents frankly accepted the joys of the world in contrast to the historical, aristocratic and retiring orthodoxy of the Buddhistic attitude. The most frequent representations to be found are from the world of the theater which at that time was a new art form, greatly appreciated by the fun-loving inhabitants of the large and lively city of Yedo which, as a cultural center of importance, attracted artistic personages from all parts of Japan. In 1868 Yedo was renamed Tokyo.
The stage and its actors is the favored subject matter of the Ukiyo-e school, but social and domestic scenes, the fashion and
amusements world are represented almost as often. The stylistic characteristics of these prints are a highly decorative manner, minuteness of detail, sweeping lines and brilliant colors.
The printmakers included are:
Hishikawa Moronobu, born in 1683, was the son of a textile designer and embroiderer in the province of Awa, on the island of Shikoku. He worked at his father’s trade but moved to Yedo after the latter’s death. There he studied painting but soon turned to designing woodcuts. He later became a monk, and died in 1714.
Torii Kyonobu, born in 1679, arrived at Yedo a few years before Moronobu's death. Kyonobu concentrated largely on actors portraits which he rendered in bold colors and striking design. He died in 1763, a recognized and highly influential master.
Torii Kyomasu, 1679-1763, was thought to have been a relative of Kyonobu I, in whose studio he worked producing prints in a style almost identical with that of Kyonobu. He was more prolific than his relative, and though his prints are fine, they are sometimes considered to be of less distinguished quality.
Tachibana Morikuni, lived from 1670 to 1748, and was a pupil of Moronobu.
Okumura Masanobu, 1685-1714, is artistically perhaps the strongest figure of his period. Little is known about his life beyond the fact that he started his career as a bookseller in Yedo and that he was a publisher of books and prints. He is also supposed to have been the first to have produced actual prints in color and to have been the inventor of various devices connected with the art of printing.
Torii Kiyohiro was active between 1751 and 1765. Known for his delicate draftsmanship his figures have marked grace and firmness of design.