Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858)
Awa Province: Naruto Whirlpools, from Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces, 1855
Color woodblock print
Gift of the Rodbell Family Collection, 2014.16.6

Japanese Impressions is the first exhibition at the Clark to focus on the Institute’s permanent collection of Japanese prints. The exhibition spans more than a century of Japanese color woodblock printing as represented by three generations of artists who produced prints from the 1830s to the 1970s.

The first generation of artists worked in a tradition known as ukiyo-e, which translates to “scenes from the floating world.” Two of the most influential figures of nineteenth century ukiyo-e printmaking, Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, worked with woodcarvers, printers, and publishers to create brightly hued woodblock prints. Their style was marked by dramatic depictions of space, which included asymmetrical compositions and bird’s-eye viewpoints. The subjects they chose ranged from images of fashionable women and actors to scenes from literature and landscapes.

Japanese printmakers of the second generation, working in the 1920s and ’30s, made up two related but oppositional groups. Each strove to revitalize the ukiyo-e genre, which declined following Japan’s industrialization in the last half of the nineteenth century. The shin-hanga or “new print” movement maintained a division of labor between artist, printer, and publisher.  The artists of this movement, including figures like Kawase Hasui and Yoshida Hiroshi, drew inspiration from the Impressionists and marketed their prints to a largely Western audience. In contrast, the sōsaku-hanga or “creative print” movement encouraged artists to cut and print their own woodblocks as a means to foster self-expression. Both schools favored Japanese subject matter, especially landscapes with bridges and reflective water. Growing out of the sōsaku hanga sensibility, Saitō Kiyoshi represents a third generation of woodcut artists who balanced tradition and innovation in his contemplative prints of Buddhist architecture.

Japanese Impressions features selections from a foundational gift made in 2014 of sixty-three woodblock prints from the Rodbell Family Collection in addition to loans from two private collections.

Major underwriting for the exhibition is provided by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation in honor and memory of Mary Griggs Burke.