Masters of Japanese Prints

Exhibitions selected from Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s collection of 500 Japanese woodblock prints - one of the top five regional collections in the UK.

Japanese print of a dramatic wave, a fishing boat and fishermen are engulfed by the wave, Mount Fuji can be seen in the background.

Hokusai and Hiroshige landscapes

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) are two of Japan’s best-known woodblock print artists. In the 1830s they designed new series of prints depicting landscapes, using a horizontal format. These became hugely popular with their customers in Japan and later with western artists and collectors.

Japanese print of a group of people dressed in traditional clothes seated around a table. One man is reclining, another man holds a woman's hand whilst pouring tea, two other women look on.

Life in the city

Japanese cities, especially Edo (today’s Tokyo), grew rapidly. Despite being lowest in the social order, many merchants and townspeople were comfortably off. They could afford fine fashion, trips to restaurants and the kabuki theatre as well as the services of courtesans (high-class prostitutes).

Japanese print showing a large Japanese temple with many small figures dressed in traditional costume walking in the grounds.

Nature and seasons

Japan’s four distinct seasons have been a source of inspiration to artists and poets for hundreds of years. In these woodblock prints from Bristol’s collection plants, animals and weather act as powerful symbols of seasonal change.

These exhibitions were developed with a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund. Thank you to our Exhibition Sponsor Inside Japan.

Thank you to everyone who donated to the Japanese Prints conservation appeal, without whom display of this work would not have been possible.

With particular thanks to Simon Baker, John and Susan Hart, Shelagh Cutner, Roger Feneley, The Davidson Charitable Trust, Sir James and Lady Virginia Tidmarsh, Katherine Croft, Dr and Mrs Hibberd, as well as the many Friends of Bristol Art Gallery members and Bristol Museums Development Trust donors who supported the appeal and exhibition.

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