12 January—12 May 2019

Masters of Japanese prints: Life in the city

This exhibition has now finished, but you can still view it online.

Featuring original woodblock prints from our collection, this exhibition explores the sophisticated urban culture of Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries, from fashion and day trips to geisha and the kabuki theatre.

This is the second exhibition in our Masters of Japanese Prints series.

By the 18th century, Japan’s capital, Edo (today’s Tokyo), was the largest city in the world with over a million inhabitants. Many of its merchants and craftspeople lived comfortably and were able to afford and indulge in fine fashion, trips to tea houses, restaurants and the kabuki theatre. The very wealthiest men were able to visit elegant geisha (professional entertainers) and courtesans (high class prostitutes) in the city’s pleasure quarters.

These city entertainments fuelled the market for woodblock prints. Theatre fans were eager to buy programmes for the season ahead and likenesses of their favourite actors. Visitors to the city might take home souvenirs of key landmarks such as bridges, rivers and temples or images of famous beauties, for the price of a bowl of noodles.

This exhibition will explore how artists and craftspeople developed fine multi-colour prints with increasingly sophisticated effects to respond to this demand whilst abiding by regulations laid down by the Shogunate, Japan’s military dictatorship.

The rare and colourful prints in our collection, specially conserved and mounted for the exhibition, allow us glimpses into Japanese urban life, both elegant and earthy, over 250 years ago.

Included in the display will be a set of prints showing the process of colour printing, by Tōshῡsai Sharaku (active 1794-1795). This is new addition to our collection from a traditional woodblock print workshop in Tokyo with funding from the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has a collection of some 500 ‘floating world pictures’ (ukiyo-e) which celebrate the pleasures of life in Japan. Our collection ranks in the top five regional UK collections.

View this exhibition online

Other exhibitions in the Masters of Japanese Prints series:

Masters of Japanese prints: Hokusai and Hiroshige landscapes
22 September 2018 – 6 January 2019

Masters of Japanese prints: Nature and seasons
18 May – 8 September 2019


Bristol Museum & Art Gallery would like to thank exhibition sponsors, Inside Japan – the Japan travel experts.

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