Skip to main content

Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection

  • UpdateTime:2019-02-21

■2019/2/21-3/30(TUE.-SAT. 11:00-18:00)

■The Preparatory Office of NTHU Museum(No.101, Sec. 2, Guangfu Rd., East Dist., Hsinchu  City)

More than a century ago, on the other side of the world, a Dutch trader opened up a package of Japanese ceramics and was thrilled by brilliant and colorful portraits of women printed on the packing paper. He was immediately attracted by the rich Oriental atmosphere of these images and began collecting these packing papers and organizing exhibitions of his collection. These works are known as Ukiyo-e and they held deep influences on European paintings.

In the 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate gained total political power and moved the capital to Edo (today's Tokyo), where the urban economy thrived because of favorable political environment, increasing population, and enhanced infrastructure. The rising merchant and citizen classes gained control of the national economy. These new rich, without the title or status of nobility, complemented this shortcoming with wealth and power and pursued the material pleasure of the senses and defined their own social status via luxury and indulgence. Furthermore, the inflow of painters and artisans initiated the transformation of art, culture, and social life. These paved the path for the birth of Ukiyo-e. "Ukiyo" translates as "floating world" and derives from a Buddhist term referring to everything in the phenomenal world. Ukiyo-e refers to the art that is popular among the common folks in the Edo period and depicts themes like beauties, famous scenery and landscapes, kabuki actors, and folk customs. These works were mostly printed and very popular with affordable price.

From Hishikawa Moronobu (c. 1618-1694) to the late 18th Century, Ukiyo-e developed from painting to woodblock prints and the full-color prints called Nishiki-e. The maturation of techniques found itself matched by the flourishing of various schools and styles of artisans. After the 19th Century, the art of Ukiyo-e was best represented by the Utagawa school, which was brought to fame by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825).

There are about 40 works in this exhibition; these works, mostly belonging to the Utagawa school, depict various themes: female beauties, landscapes, kabuki actors, and story and daily-life scenes. From the daily-life themes, clean and fluid lines, and splendid colors, we see the art of Ukiyo-e as embodied by the teamwork of painters, woodcarvers, and printers. The craftsmanship and the cultural significances underlying these images reflect the intoxicating culture and aesthetics of the folklife during the Edo period.

This lot of collection was donated by Mr. Goino Tadashi , the honorary chairperson of the Utagawa Society, to the National Museum of History (NMH) in 1998. At the same time, he also donated more than 300 pieces of Ukiyo-e works to four other universities in Taiwan via the NMH. Today, following the spirit of “Lights off, but the show continues; We renovate but will keep serving you,” the NMH continues the wish of the donor and works to connect the museum, the community and the students through the collection. Furthermore, the partner of this exhibition, the Preparatory Office of NTHU Museum, was founded on the basis of the donation by Prof. Yang Rur-Bin, who has cooperated with the NMH in two previous exhibitions, namely 1949: the Birth of New Taiwan and A Century of the Humanities in Taiwan, both had benefited greatly from Prof. Yang ' s generous lending of collection and enthusiastic contribution. With such a strong and precious connection, the NMH and the NTHU are glad to cooperate after ten years to organize this serial exhibition of Ukiyo-e works and embody the artistic and cultural exchange between the museum and the university.