Published: December 4, 2001
A Best-Loved Master of the Woodblock Print
By Carol Sims
Originally published in hardcover for the Royal Academy exhibition in 1997, this landmark text is now available in paperback from Prestel. Utagawa (1797-1858) is one of the best-loved masters of the woodblock print, known primarily for his countless views of Edo and the Japanese countryside. Travelers walking in the rain or snow, bridges, bays, views of Mt Fuji, wild seas and birds tumbling through the air, are a few of the subjects loved to capture.
The color reproductions of ‘s exquisite woodblock prints are top quality and provide the reader/viewer with access to some of the best examples of ‘s finest prints. Author Matthi Forrer stresses the point that quality within and between various editions of the same wood block print could vary tremendously since editions frequently numbered more than 20,000. Earlier prints in the edition are the more desirable. Forrer’s descriptions identify the location of the view depicted, and give details of coloring and changes of later impressions. He also adds historic references and background information.
Poetry was often incorporated in ‘s prints. We are able to see the original Japanese characters in cartouches within the prints’ compositions, then read the transliterations and English translations in the adjacent text. The combination of informed text and beautiful imagery and Japanese poetry is alluring.
This is a very thorough text. It includes maps, a chronology, glossary and bibliography. The author is curator of the Japanese department at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, The Netherlands. He also wrote Hokusai: Prints and Drawings. Other contributors are Suzuki Juzo and Henry D. Smith II. Suzuki Juzo is author of the standard monograph on , and former senior librarian at the National Diet Library in Tokyo. Henry D. Smith II is professor of recent Japanese history at Columbia University, New York City.
You don’t have to be a Japanese print expert to appreciate this book. As Juzo writes, “The work of Utagawa , more than that of any other Japanese woodblock print artist, appeals profound-ly and directly to the modern viewer, regardless of his or her knowledge of ukiyoe.”
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