Regal courtiers, lively townspeople, tragic heroines, and virtuous deities, are presented in exquisite form in this exhibition featuring figures in Japanese art. Styled with Poise: Figures in Japanese Paintings and Prints displays art from the Edo period (1603–1868), when a wide range of painting styles and significant developments in woodblock printmaking made visual art accessible to many in Japan. Figures in hanging scrolls and screens helped adorn residences, especially in the larger metropolitan areas such as in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (current-day Tokyo), during a time when interior decorations were still sparse.
While religious scrolls with important Buddhist figures for worship such as Amida Buddha and other bodhisattva, hung in temple halls, depictions of people engaged in daily activities, and other popular subjects were enjoyed in the homes of wealthier townsmen. Historical figures were often heralded as upholding the ideals of the past and even ghosts – or figures who met unfortunate or untimely deaths – came to be depicted in painted form.
Woodblock print production reached its zenith by around 1900 in terms of both artistry and production. Prints delighted the commoners since they could acquire a memento of their travels, a portrait of a favorite kabuki actor, or perhaps a portrait of a beautiful woman. Just as we gaze at celebrities in magazines and posters, the residents of Edo could do the same with their woodblock prints of kabuki actors. Woodblock prints were produced by a collaborative process between a publisher, artist, woodcutter, and printer during the Edo period and into the Meiji era (1868-1912). They were discovered in the West as early as the late nineteenth century in France, when they were found as packing materials for tea from China and Japan. They continue to be popular items for collectors today.
This exhibition draws together a variety of paintings and printed works to explore these many types of figures and figural representation in Japanese art, and will feature unique works from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and from private collections in Boston and Dallas.