Fine Arts Museum News

Japanese Prints Exhibition

Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts

February 21, 2008

Woodblock prints inspired by animals both real and imagined will be on view at the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts from March 4-September 7, 2008, in the exhibition Curious Creatures: Japanese Prints from the Permanent Collection.

Japanese artists learned to draw and paint animals as part of their artistic training, often copying the work of their teachers to gain mastery of the subject matter. Some Japanese artists emulated the Chinese tradition of depicting animals as symbols of power rather than living, breathing creatures. Others observed animals in their natural habitat in order to render them realistically. Still others worked within the Japanese tradition of showing imaginary animals associated with mythology.

Woodblock prints were made by printing an image carved into the surface of a wooden block onto a sheet of paper. It was common to use several carved wood blocks, one for each color, to achieve the final image.

Curious Creatures offers a glimpse into the varied approaches used by 19th- and 20th-century artists such as Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Andō Hiroshige, Ōhara Shōson, Utagawa Yoshi-Iku, and Takahashi Shotei. From the delicate fins of a goldfish, to the menacing tentacles of an octopus, to the fierce eyes of a dragon, the prints represent the artists' masterful techniques and exquisite use of color.

The prints on view are all from the large collection of ukiyo-e prints and paintings donated to the Museum of Fine Arts by Springfield attorney Raymond A. Bidwell. Ukiyo-e, which means "floating world," depicted the amusements and pleasures of the townspeople during the Tokugawa Period (1615-1858) in Japan. Affordable and plentiful, the prints' subject matter included famous courtesans and beautiful women, life in the entertainment district of Edo (Tokyo), acclaimed Kabuki theater actors, pictures of family life, Japanese mythical figures, animals, and beautiful sites around Japan.
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