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Brigham Young University

Windows on a Hidden World: Japanese Woodblock Prints
                    from the BYU Collection


September 26, 2008 – January 17, 2009
Warren & Alice Jones and Paul & Betty Boshard galleries (lower level)

When Japan opened its doors to the outside world in 1854 after two centuries of self-imposed isolation, it disclosed subtle and mysterious beauties. This island kingdom held rugged coastlines, wooded mountains, and picturesque villages. It was also the home of a distinctive culture with sumptuous styles of dress, elaborate architecture, and spectacular theatrical entertainments.

For most Europeans and Americans, their first glimpses of this hidden world came through a distinctively Japanese art form — colorful woodblock prints called ukiyo-e (oo-key-yo-eh). Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Japanese artists had developed techniques for multi-color printing with which they created elegant images of people and places in their homeland that could be reproduced by the thousands. In Europe and America, collectors and artists of the late nineteenth century marveled at their subtle delicacy. These evocative images inspired the experimentations of artists like Manet, Monet, Degas, Cassatt, Whistler, and Van Gogh. Many of these prints entered the collections of major museums on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Brigham Young University Museum of Art is fortunate to have more than a hundred examples of Japanese woodblock prints, including dozens of works by recognized masters of this art form. Most of these prints were collected by J. Alden Weir, a leading American Impressionist painter, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His collection passed to his son-in-law, Utah-born artist Mahonri Young, and through his heirs to Brigham Young University.

One outstanding print in the exhibition depicts a vista through the gates of a famous Buddhist temple in Edo (Tokyo) while snow gently falls. Titled The Kinryuzan Temple in Asakusa, this design was created in 1856 by Hiroshige (Ando Hiroshige, 1797-1858), the last of the great masters of classic woodblock printmaking. The sides of the gate and the large lantern overhead frame the more distant view of worshippers approaching the temple, its brilliant red walls contrasting with the thickly layered, spotless snow. Although the bright pure colors, the careful geometric composition, and the lack of shadows make the picture more a decorative two-dimensional pattern than a realistic scene, we nevertheless see it as a convincingly real place with a distinct mood. It seems that the temple gates have just opened to give us a glimpse of a quiet, reverent place in a pristine world.

http://cfac.byu.edu/index.php?id=1635 

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http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700258298,00.html?pg=2 

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