Terrific Tokyo

Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery will host an exhibition from September 24 to October 24 of 50 Japanese woodblock prints that illustrate the changing aspect of one of the world's most dynamic cities.

Featuring works by such artists as Hiroshige III, Yoshitora, Chikanobu, Kawase Hasui, Onchi Koshiro and Hiratsuka Unichi, this exhibition covers the era when Tokyo became Japan's economic, political and intellectual center - from the 19th century to the rebuilding of the city after the devastating great Kanto earthquake of 1923.

Terrific Tokyo: A Panorama in Prints from the 1860s to the 1930s includes fascinating prints that represent people of all classes and recount what Tokyo citizens saw and wore, and what they did for work and relaxation. From The John Chandler Bancroft Collection of the Worcester Art Museum and the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection of Meiji Prints, this exhibition provides "portraits" of new buildings and enterprises that depict an idealized version of life during the transformation of Japan's largest city. Frederic A. Sharf, one of the exhibit's primary contributors, will introduce the exhibit and give a talk about the woodblock works at 6 p.m. on September 24.

According to Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, who has written extensively on traditional and modern Japanese prints, this exhibition reflects the view held by Japanese intellectuals of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods that the new was better than the old and that society should always improve. The great Kanto earthquake that destroyed Tokyo in 1923 provided the impetus to transform the city. New economic opportunities in the rebuilt city created a sophisticated and exciting new culture. For the first time in Japan's history, Tokyo became both the center of government and modern culture.

To create woodblock print, an artist uses a sharp-edged tool to engrave a picture into a woodblock. They are pictures in which the pigment is imprinted on the block surface and becomes an integral part of the picture. Because the artists cannot paint or correct the engraved woodblock print, each line and color depends on a conscious decision by the artist and requires pain-staking accuracy.

"Artists of the day used woodblocks to convey a nostalgic, glorified national image, while the subjects of the prints stressed the new and forward-looking behavior embraced at the time. Instead, they depict the city and its people as the epitome of modern life, with no evidence of any domestic or international conflict. They are, in essence, a fiction."