Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints

Sep 10, 2021
- Dec 4, 2021
1st Floor: The Leah Louise B. Tannenbaum and Louise D. and Herbert S. Falk, Sr. Galleries 2nd Floor: The Gregory D. Ivy Gallery and Weatherspoon Guild Galleries

Natori Shunsen, The Actor Ichikawa Chūsha VII as Takechi Mitsuhide (from the series Creative Prints: Collected Portraits by Shunsen), 1926, woodblock print, ink and color on paper with mica and embossing. Published by Watanabe Shōzaburō. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Ellen and Fred Wells, 2002.161.60. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Early in the twentieth century, during Japan’s rapid Westernization and industrialization, a desire to revive the great Japanese tradition of woodblock prints (known as ukiyo-e) in the context of Japan’s dynamic, modern life gave rise to an art movement known as shin hanga, or the “new print.” Beginning around 1915, a small group of artists mingled the old with the new, creating beautiful, enticing pictures that were reproduced as prints of almost unsurpassed quality.

Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints focuses on seven artists who played a significant role in the development of the shin hanga print, and whose works boldly exemplify this new movement: Hashiguchi Goyō, Kawase Hasui, Yamamura Kōka, Torii Kotondo, Itō Shinsui, Yamakawa Shūhō, and Natori Shunsen. The 75 woodblock prints are drawn from the superb collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and feature three themes: Kabuki actors, beautiful women, and landscapes. In addition to their enticing imagery, the materials used in creating the works captivate as well. Shin hanga prints were made using thick mulberry paper, rich mineral pigments, featured special elements like embossing and mica backgrounds, and emphasized the swirly movement of the rubbing tool, or baren. While 18th and 19th century ukiyo-e prints had been printed by the hundreds—even thousands for the most popular designs—shin hanga prints were produced in limited editions to guarantee exclusivity.

The Weatherspoon Art Museum owns a collection of over 400 Japanese woodblock prints, dating from the 18th-20th century. Due to their light sensitivity, prints from the Lenoir C. Wright Collection are only exhibited on an occasional basis, but many can be seen online through the museum’s collection page. In addition, fourteen prints that reflect themes found in Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints are featured HERE

Click HERE to access the UNC Greensboro University Libraries Resource Guide for Seven Masters.

Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints was organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Its presentation at the Weatherspoon Art Museum was facilitated by Elaine D. Gustafson, Curator of Collections.