Reflections of Beauty: Late Nineteenth-Century Japanese Prints in the Smart Museum Collection

December 15, 2002 – March 23, 2003

Widespread societal transformation, engendered by Japan's new openness to the outside world during the nineteenth century, greatly impacted the print culture known as Ukiyo-e that flourished in the theater and courtesan quarters of Edo (modern Tokyo).

The three artists featured in this exhibition—Kunisada (1786–1865), Kunishika (1835–1900), and Chikenobu (1838–1912)—represent a line of teacher-student succession that traces different reactions to these changes: from initial fascination to eventual nostalgia. The lavishly printed bijinga or "beautiful women" prints and related theatrical woodblocks in this exhibition not only capture the ideal of fleeting beauty so highly esteemed by male audiences at the time, but also more broadly reflect longing for a traditional culture which was quickly vanishing due to the rapid, often disorienting tempo of Japan's Western-style modernization.