Published: October 23, 2012
The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art is presenting “Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints,” an exhibition that examines the distinct yet overlapping traditions of color printmaking in France and Japan. On view through January 20, the exhibition offers more than 130 prints and illustrated books from the Eighteenth⁔wentieth Centuries.
Along with well-known posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and ukiyo-e “images of the floating world,” featured objects also includes virtuoso color intaglio prints made before the French Revolution and boldly colored Japanese prints that took advantage of chemical dyes imported from Europe.
With these fine works drawn from the Smart’s substantial holdings as well as major public and private collections across the country, “Awash in Color” weaves a dual history, touching on the social structures, commercial forces and technological innovations that helped to shape color printmaking in both cultures. Together with an accompanying catalog, the exhibition will add breadth and depth to one’s understanding of one of the most fruitful artistic exchanges between East and West.
The rise of color printmaking in France in the late Nineteenth Century is often attributed to a fascination with Japanese woodblock prints, which began to circulate in great numbers after the opening of Japan in 1854. But a closer look at the history of color printmaking in these two cultures reveals that the story is not so simple. Parallel traditions were flourishing in both France and Japan well before 1854. And, when the two cultures met, the channels of technical and aesthetic influence flowed in both directions, not merely from East to West.
“By bringing together a selection of color prints from each culture over the course of two centuries, we hope to demonstrate how viewers in each locale became accustomed to a certain range of techniques and palettes that would then be challenged by the rapid influx of prints from the other side of the world in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century,” explain exhibition curators Chelsea Foxwell, assistant professor of art history at the University of Chicago, and Anne Leonard, Smart Museum curator and associate director of academic initiatives.
“Awash in Color” is organized into multiple sections that detail the parallel and intersecting developments in color printmaking in France and Japan from 1700 to 1915. This organization emphasizes a comparative approach to each tradition, allowing visitors to explore broad patterns of patronage; differences in woodblock, intaglio and lithographic techniques; and anxiety over the development of automated commercial processes that were a harbinger of a new modern age.
The works on view reveal a great variety of color palettes: from early woodcuts that were hand painted with vegetable dyes to later prints saturated with brilliant aniline colors. The exhibition likewise presents a wide range of subject matters, reflecting changes in the social landscape. Visitors will encounter prints depicting actors and the theater, beautiful women, landscapes, cityscapes, nobility, commoners, still life, botanicals, biblical stories, Parisian nightspots and more.
A related exhibition, “Renewal and Revision: Japanese Prints of the 1950s and 60s,” is on view through December 9. This intimate companion exhibition examines the resurgence and reassessment of Japanese printmaking in the first two decades after World War II, touching on developments in the sosaku hanga (“creative print”) movement and connections to Western avant-garde artistic movements.
“Awash in Color” is accompanied by an exhibition catalog illustrated in full color and will be available via the University of Chicago Press.
The museum is at the University of Chicago, 5550 South Greenwood Avenue. For more information, 773-702-0176 or www.smartmuseum.uchicago.edu .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm