Japanese Woodblock Prints Illustrate Tokyo's Dramatic Evolution

WORCESTER, MASS., APRIL 6, 1999 - The Worcester Art Museum is delighted to present Terrific Tokyo: A Panorama in Prints from the 1860s to the 1930s, an exhibition of 50 Japanese woodblock prints that illustrate the changing aspect of one of the world's most dynamic cities. On view from April 17 - July 4, 1999, this exciting exhibition covers the era when Tokyo became Japan's economic, political, and intellectual center - from the late 19th century to the rebuilding of the city after the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In addition to the cityscapes and scenes of modern life from the Worcester Art Museum's renowned Japanese print collection, the exhibition includes late 19th century "modernization" prints from the collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf.

Featuring works by such artists as Hiroshige III, Yoshitora, Chikanobu, Kawase Hasui, Onchi Koshiro and Hiratsuka Unichi, these fascinating prints represent people of all classes and recount what Tokyo citizens saw and wore, and what they did for work and relaxation. The prints also provide "portraits" of new buildings and enterprises, and depict an idealized version of life during the transformation of Japan's largest city.

According to Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, the Worcester Art Museum's curator of Asian Art and director of Collections and Exhibitions, these prints reflect the view held by Japanese intellectuals of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods that the new was better than the old and that society should always improve. When the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed Tokyo, it provided an impetus to transform the city. New economic opportunities in the rebuilt city created a sophisticated and exciting new culture. For the first time in Japan's history, Tokyo became both the center of government and modern culture. Complex and cosmopolitan, Tokyo in the interwar period was vibrant and exciting.

"Artists of the day used woodblocks to convey a nostalgic, glorified national image, while the subjects of the prints stressed the new and forward-looking behavior embraced at the time," Swinton explains. "These prints do not offer social commentary or critique events of the day. Instead, they depict the city and its people as the epitome of modern life, with no evidence of any domestic or international conflict. They are, in essence, a fiction."

A specialist in Japanese art, Swinton has written extensively on traditional and modern Japanese prints. She has written a fully-illustrated, 80-page soft-cover catalogue entitled, "Terrific Tokyo: A Panorama in Prints," which is available for $24.95 plus shipping costs by calling the Worcester Art Museum at 508.799.4406, x3053. After showing in Worcester, the exhibition will travel to the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, from September 10 - October 14, 1999. This exhibition is supported by SKINNER, Auctioneers & Appraisers, Bolton and Boston, Massachusetts.

Museum Background

Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.