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Impressions of the Front: Woodcuts of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895

April 23–June 26, 1983

The war between Japan and China over the control of Korea, while lasting less than a year, was one of the first wars to be covered by reporters, whose daily dispatches created a huge demand for war pictures. Japanese artists responded by producing over 3,000 wood-block prints at the rate of about ten a day. Most were published as sets of three panels and show the influence of recent contact with the West, both in the bright coloring and in the use of perspective and foreshortening. Several prints show newsmen braving the hazards of war in the interests of their readers, adding to the battle-front air of excitement. But in fact very few artists went to the front, and their images were often based on inadequate or erroneous accounts. Some woodcuts were even executed and sold in anticipation of the skirmishes they supposedly recorded. The frankly propagandistic aims of the prints led to still other distortions. Many images portrayed the war as a battle waged by modern civilization against the forces of reaction and darkness. Still, from the mid-1880s Japanese critics had put new emphasis on the importance of realism in the arts. Many printmakers responded to their demand and sought to convince rather than to excite, conveying a fidelity to atmosphere if not to actual facts of battle. These artists actually benefited from the paucity of information about the war, which left them free to invent scenes and details of landscape in their images of the hardships endured by soldiers. This exhibition of 87 wood-block prints supported by a grant from The Pew Memorial Trust is drawn from the Museum's permanent collection. Many of the war prints were acquired through funds donated by Peter A. Benoliel, and some were a gift of Charles H. Mitchell. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by Shumpei Okamoto, Professor of Japanese History at Temple University.

Main Building


The Pew Memorial Trust


Ellen S. Jacobowitz

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