22 September 2018 - 6 January 2019

Masters of Japanese prints: 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.

Both Hokusai and Hiroshige used innovative perspectives, changes in light and weather as well as human activity to involve viewers in their landscape designs.

The Masters of Japanese Prints: Hokusai and Hiroshige landscapes exhibition was open at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery from 22 September 2018 – 6 January 2019.

The second exhibition in the series, Masters of Japanese prints: Life in the city runs from 12 January – 12 May 2019.

The third exhibition, Masters of Japanese Prints: Nature and seasons runs from 18 May – 8 September 2019.

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This exhibition was developed with a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund. Thank you to our Exhibition Sponsor Inside Japan.

Scholar on a Balcony Overlooking a River Unknown artist, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Scholar on a Balcony Overlooking a River

Unknown artist, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Chinese artists were the first to depict landscapes as the main subjects of their paintings.
This painting is in the style of Xu Daoning, a Chinese painter of the Northern Song dynasty (AD 907–1127). The black ink is diluted thinly in places to show the delicate features of the land and water.
In Japan, Chinese-style landscape paintings first became popular about 600 years ago.

Bequeathed by F. P. M. Schiller, 1946. K1690

Hokusai, master of mountains and water

Hokusai was the first woodblock artist to make landscape the main focus of his colour prints. In his ground-breaking series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1830-31), he depicted the volcanic cone of Japan’s tallest mountain, Fuji, from a range of different view-points and at different times of day. Many customers bought these works and scholars estimate that each design was printed as many as 8,000 times to satisfy demand.

At this time Japanese people were increasingly interested in travel and visiting famous sites. They could buy woodblock prints as attractive souvenirs for the same price as a large meal.

Map of Japan with detail of area including Mount Fuji, Kyoto, Osaka and Edo.

Travels with Hiroshige

Encouraged by Hokusai’s success, Hiroshige developed his own landscape series starting with The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road (1833-34) which portrayed stopping places along the coastal road between the cities of Kyoto and Edo (today’s Tokyo).

The Tōkaidō Road and the Kisokaidō Road, the inland route depicted in a later series, were heavily used by travellers including powerful lords (daimyo) and their followers who had to travel regularly to Edo to show their allegiance to the Shōgun, Japan’s military dictator.

Hiroshige uses inventive view-points for his landscapes, zooming between mountain ranges and roadside shacks. He shows people experiencing all the physical aspects of travel ranging from a hard climb through snow to a rest with a cup of tea.

Map of Japan with the Tokaido and Kisokaido Road

Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-1869)

Making a woodblock print

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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