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Picturing the West: Yokohama Prints 1859–1870s

August 28–November 14, 2010

The scenic views, portraits, theater subjects, and other aspects of Japanese daily life and culture depicted in ukiyo-e color woodcuts made in Japan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are widely known and admired. Less familiar are the color woodcuts that portray Westerners who came to Japan after the country opened its borders in the 1850s to international trade. For two centuries prior to U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's historic voyages to Japan in 1852–54, the ruling Tokugawa shogunate enforced a policy of seclusion that, with a few strictly regulated exceptions, forbade travel to or from the country. Thus the Japanese were naturally curious about the dress, habits, and technologies of the newly arrived Western visitors. This interest led to a flourishing of prints recording the coal-powered steam vessels known as "Black Ships," hoop-skirted women, and men in top hats, as well as the foreigners' communities in Japan and imaginary views of the cities from which they came.

Previously a small fishing village, Yokohama was completely transformed after its designation as a major international port. Foreigners established their own districts, and the city expanded with an unprecedented flow of travelers and goods. Japanese print publishers sent artists to Yokohama to make sketches on site. Imagery borrowed from illustrations in Western periodicals supplemented eyewitness accounts. A curious blend of convention and novelty mark the resulting prints; traditional color woodcut techniques and methods of production are combined with new subjects. Picturing the West showcases approximately ninety Yokohama woodcuts selected from the Museum's extensive collection of nineteenth-century Japanese prints.

Main Building


Shelley R. Langdale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings

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