Time is running short to see Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints at the Toledo Museum of Art. The TMA collection of exquisite woodblock prints, on view together for the first time since 1930, is considered to be among the finest and most comprehensive collections of shin hanga (“new prints”) at any American museum.
When the Fresh Impressions exhibition ends on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1, 2014), the prints go back into protective storage containers so their brilliant colors do not fade and their beauty remains for future generations to enjoy. For many of us, now is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see all of them.
TMA helped introduce modern Japanese prints to American audiences in 1930 and 1936 with two exhibitions of works by contemporary Japanese artists who had revived the traditional art of the woodblock print for a new era. Chief Curator Carolyn Putney, whose specialty is Asian art, has revisited and reinterpreted the 1930 landmark show. She has added a few new elements, such as kimono, Kabuki Theater costumes and traditional Japanese swords and armor, but the stars of the exhibition remain the 343 prints by 10 leading artists of the shin hanga movement.
The shin hanga movement began in Japan around 1915 and is noted for combining traditional Japanese woodblock technique with an interest in Western aesthetics and a vivid, modern color. The era has been described as “a period of Renaissance” in Japanese woodblock printmaking.
All but a handful of the prints are owned by the Museum. Most of them were donated in 1939 by local print collector Hubert D. Bennett, who at the time was president of Toledo Scale and a member of the Museum’s board of directors.
The prints encompass a variety of subject matter, including traditional landscapes, seascapes, rivers and lakes, beautiful women (bijinga), actors (yakusha-e), the natural world and wildlife, cities, towns and temples, as well as Western-inspired still life and genre scenes.
Artists include Hashiguchi Goyō (1880–1921), Itō Shinsui (1898–1972), Kawase Hasui (1883–1957), Miki Suizan (1887–1957), Natori Shunsen (1886–1960), Oda Kazuma (1882–1956), Ohara Shōson, also known as Ohara Kōson (1877–1945), Yamamura Toyonari, also known as Yamamura Kōka (1885–1942), Hiroshi Yoshida (1876–1950) and Yoshikawa Kanpō (1894–1979).
The 352-page catalog contains reproductions of all 343 prints, along with essays by Putney, scholars Kendall H. Brown and Koyama Shukō and artist Paul Binnie. Bound to be a reference book for years to come, the catalog was published with the assistance of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
The exhibition is made possible by members of the Toledo Museum of Art and supported in part by Bridgestone APM Company and by Douglas and Elaine Barr. The exhibition also is supported in part by the Ohio Arts Council’s sustainable grant program funded in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Admission to the exhibition and to the Museum is free. The companion catalog can be purchased through the Museum Store and online at toledomuseum.org.