Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Who Knew? --- Day 13/90

Walk: Legion of Honor Museum

Distance: 2.5 miles

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1846), Wife of a Virtuous Man from the series Ten Beautiful Women, 1797-1800,
 Color woodcut, 13x8 7/8 inches

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), Strolling from the series Thirty-Two Customs and Manners, 1888,
Color woodcut, 14 1/6 x 9 7/16"

The two exceptionally fine Japanese woodcut prints above were produced just 88 years apart, not a particularly long time for a country that was founded as a kingdom in 660 BC.  But apparently centuries apart in terms of female fashion.  

And centuries apart would be accurate.  When American Commodore Matthew Perry led his four ships into the harbor at Tokyo Bay in 1853, the Japanese had cut off nearly all contact with the outside world since 1639.  Over 200 years.  During those years its political, social, religious and artistic customs had developed in isolated stability and near purity.  One city, Edo, evolved into a distinct and pervasive artistic center with its Kabuki theater and highly popular, avidly collected woodblock prints. 

Today these prints are well-known and highly regarded as visual insights into the look, interests and activities of that hidden time.  And clearly one of the most valued subjects was beautiful women in tradtional dress, like the first print above.

In art history scholoarship much is made of the colossal effect these Japanese prints had on Western artists, artisans and fashion.  Monet for instance was a great lover of them, learned much from their flat style and had an enormous personal collection. And the European craze for Japanese art and design beginning in the mid-1800's was so pervasive it has its own term: Japonisme.  But, until Ciwt went to the Press Preview of Japanese Prints in Transition, at the Legion of Honor Museum, Japanese Prints in Transition, she had never known that the West had had an equally pervasive impact on life in Japan.  Nor, she learned, is she alone in this; very little has been publicized about, to coin a phrase, 'Americanism' in Japan.

Yet, there it is in the lower print above with the beautiful Japanese woman now in classic Victorian dress. We'll explore more about in the next few CIWT's.

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