Introduction – Japanese Woodblock Prints
The Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, has received a gift from the Japanese woodblock artist Mr. Okamoto Ryûsei (1949-): a complete collection of his printed oeuvre, including sketches and woodblocks.
The museum, through its Department of Ethnography, will assure safe storage so that these artworks can be enjoyed by European audiences, not only today but in years to come.
In accepting Okamoto’s gift, the museum has been prompted to seek an affinity between present-day Japanese woodblock printing and the masters of ukiyo-e – “floating world pictures” of the past. The university museum’s collections were established during the latter part of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). They include woodblock prints, but also books and maps from the middle of the 17th century until the early 20th century.
The inclusion of ukiyo-e in this museum’s collections started in 1864. A Norwegian naval officer, lieutenant Christie, who in 1863 had served on a French ship in the Far East, donated a book printed as ukiyo-e.
This exhibition’s presentation of the classical ukiyo-e tradition is broadened by generous loans from Oslo University Library and Norway’s National Museum. The exhibition bridges past and present through a selection of landscape motifs and depictions of female beauty. The latter theme is more fully elaborated by Okamoto’s portrayals of femininity: innocence to begin with, but also the darker aspects of erotic exposure.
Ukiyo-e is a Japanese tradition that evolved during a feudal period when the country shunned contact with the outside world. It is somewhat paradoxical that woodblock printing managed to circumvent censorship and cull inspiration from outside Japan. Ukiyo-e artists who were aware of European techniques added perspectival depth to their pictures.
European artists, for their part, were fascinated by the way the Japanese artists combined elegant lines with flatly coloured fields. Just as Dutch copper engravings may have come to Japan as wrapping paper, European artists became cognizant of the Japanese tradition through ukiyo-e designed wrapping paper used to protect imported porcelain. Chance encounters like these may be key means for cultural cross-fertilization in a globalizing world.
NOTE: Japanese names in this exhibition are written with family name preceding given name.