Japan on Paper

, University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
A mountainous landscape an either side with trees. Deep blue at the top and in the center with a white crescent.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Japanese, Bow-Shaped Crescent Moon, from the series Twenty-Eight Views of the Moon, Edo period, c. 1832. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Friends of Arthur B. Duel, 1933.4.323.

University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Japanese woodblock prints, with their sophisticated designs and bold planes of color, have long attracted viewers and inspired Western artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Mary Cassatt. These technically refined and aesthetically exciting prints were among the earliest works of Asian art acquired by the Harvard Art Museums, first entering the collections in 1910. Today the museums house approximately 5,000 single-sheet Japanese woodblock prints, and this exhibition introduces a selection of superlative impressions from this lively medium. The exhibition also seeks to highlight the individuals whose generosity has made it possible for generations of Harvard students to encounter and learn from these works.

The exhibition features almost 50 works spanning the history of Japanese woodblock printing, from the 17th through 20th century; these include single-sheet prints, luxury surimono prints, printed handscrolls, and printed books by renowned designers such as Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770), pioneer of the full-color print; landscape specialist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858); enigmatic designer Sharaku (active 1794–95), best known for “big head” (ōkubi) actor prints; Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800); and the ever-popular Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). Also included are modern “new print” (shin hanga) and “creative print” (sōsaku hanga) works by the leaders of these two 20th-century movements, as well as a selection of woodblock printing tools to enhance visitors’ understanding of the medium.

The exhibition also marks the first public presentation of the museums’ newest acquisition in the area of Japanese prints, a contemporary work by Noriko Saitō (b. 1973).

Curated by Quintana Heathman, former Curatorial Fellow in Japanese Art (2014–16); and Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Associate Curator of Asian Art, Harvard Art Museums.

Support for this exhibition was provided by Harvard University’s Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and by the Harvard Art Museums’ Leopold (Harvard M.B.A. ’64) and Jane Swergold Asian Art Exhibitions and Publications Fund, Peter Drucker Research and Exhibition Fund, and José Soriano Fund.