Spencer Museum of Art
The University of Kansas
1301 Mississippi Street
An Idyllic Vision: The Modern Japanese Landscape
December 1, 2007-February 3, 2008
This exhibition examines Japanese landscape prints of the Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa (1926-1989) periods. Set against the reality of early twentieth century Japanese industrialization and modernity, Shin hanga, or “new prints,” presented an idyllic and timeless vision of the Japanese landscape. These prints portrayed an under-populated and traditional landscape in a time when many Japanese were living in cities and facing issues of modern life. The exhibition is intended to address issues of place, identity, and modernity in the context of early twentieth century Japan, as well as the growing sentiment of nationalism and how the concept of place relates to the idea of nation.
The shin hanga (literally new prints) art movement in early 20th century Japan, during the Taisho and Showa periods, revitalized traditional ukiyo-e art which had its roots in the Edo and Meiji periods (17th–19th century). It maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system [hanmoto system] where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, as opposed to the sosaku hanga (creative prints) movement that advocated the principles of “self-drawn” [jiga], self-carved” [jikoku] and “self-printed” [jizuri], according to which the artist, with the desire of expressing the self, is the sole creator of art.
The term shin hanga was coined in 1915 by Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962), the most important publisher of shin hanga with the aim of differentiating shin-hanga from the commercial mass art that ukiyo-e had been, though somewhat ironically it was driven largely by exports to the United States.
The movement flourished from around 1915 to 1942, though it resumed briefly from 1946 through the 1950s. Inspired by European Impressionism, the artists incorporated Western elements such as the effects of light and the expression of individual moods, but focused on strictly traditional themes of landscapes [fukeiga], famous places [meisho], beautiful women [bijinga], kabuki actors [yakusha-e], and birds and flowers [kachoga].
Shin hanga prints were directed to a Western audience largely through Western patronage and art dealers such as Robert O. Muller (1911-2003). Directed primarily to foreign markets, shin hanga prints appealed to Western taste for nostalgic and romanticized views of Japan.
Shin hanga prints flourished and enjoyed immense popularity overseas. In the 1920s, there were articles on shin hanga in International Studio, Studio, Art News and Art Digest. In 1921, Shinsaku-hanga Tenrankai (New Creative Print exhibition) was held in Tokyo. 150 works by 10 artists were exhibited. In 1930 and 1936, two major shin hanga exhibitions were mounted in Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, the largest showcases of shin hanga prints at the time.
Ironically, there was not much domestic market for shin hanga prints in Japan. Ukiyo-e prints were considered by the Japanese as mass commercial products, as opposed to the European view of ukiyo-e as art during the climax of Japonisme. After decades of modernization during the Meiji era, architecture, art and clothing in Japan were westernized. Japanese art students were trained in the Western tradition. Western oil paintings [yoga] were considered as high art and received official recognition from the Bunten (The Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition). Shin hanga prints, on the contrary, were considered as a variation of the outdated ukiyo-e. They were dismissed by the Bunten and were subordinated under oil paintings and sculptures.
This exhibition was organized by guest curator Alison Miller, KU graduate student in art history.