The Collection. Utamaro, Hiroshige, Weiss

17.01.2019 - 31.03.2019

Curator: Anna Król Cooperation: Monika Pawłowska
Utamaro Kitagawa (1753―1806), a representative of the ‘golden period’ of the ukiyo-e print, was a master of the female portrait, in the genre known as bijinga, or pictures of beauties. He created an ideal of the Japanese women, primarily the courtesan, the prostitute, elevated to the rank of goddess. That delighted the Europeans, though of course it has very little to do with the reality of life in 18th century Japan. The fascination with Utamaro in the 19th century was also a consequence of the fact that his work suggested European artists an entirely new way of observing reality.

His art usually attracts such descriptions as ephemeral, elusive, mysterious, and sensually beautiful. Utamaro is a mysterious artist himself; we know very little about him. He is perhaps the best-known Japanese artist in Europe and the world over, recognizable despite the cultural differences.

Hiroshige (1791–1858), alongside Utamaro and Hokusai, is one of the greatest of the ukiyo-e artists, those who had a decisive impact on the Western art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As well as woodblock prints, he also made paintings, and he was interested in several Japanese schools: Yamato-e, Kanō, Shijō and nanga, as well as Western art; he was especially fascinated by Early Modern perspective, which had a fundamental influence on his work.

Although Hiroshige stemmed from a samurai family, he identified with bourgeois Edo culture, and this enabled him to depict characteristic elements of that culture with fluency in his images of beautiful women, portraits of actors, and theatrical scenes. Nonetheless, it was primarily as the author of his series of landscapes that he rose to fame; these include Fifty-three halts on the Tōkaidō highroad, Eight views of Ōmi province, One hundred views of famous places in Edo. He made masterful views of the landscape at differing times of the day and year, and in varying weather conditions. He employed innovative composition solutions, unconventional spatial ideas, and an original way of framing details of reality. These naturalistic and at once ambient prints create a remarkable, fascinating vision of Japan. A body of around 10,000 works of his authorship is known.

Hiroshige also made some 500 woodblock prints in the kachō-ga type, the first of them in the early 1830s. These formidable studies, born out of his rare skill of observing elusive natural phenomena place the viewer in a curious situation – as one element of the world he portrays.

Wojciech Weiss (1875–1950), one of the major representatives of the Young Poland movement and Polish Japanism, sometimes referred to as ‘the Cracovian Japonist’, observed nature with attention and sensitivity, making pictorial notes of its various manifestations, in accordance with the rhythms of the four seasons of the year. On small pieces of canvas and paper, he sketched and painted flowers and birds – wild and cultivated – as well as fruits and vegetables. He created a kind of herbal, containing precise, almost botanical depictions of his favourite plants. These included nasturtiums, irises and water lilies, due to their decorative form, also coltsfeet and poppies, as well as sunflowers – blooming, yielding fruit, and withering. Many of these depictions emanate sadness and reflection on transience. The Manggha Museum has been assembling a collection of Polish Japanism – works inspired by Japanese art – since 2005. The pieces shown in this exhibition are part of a unique collection, one of a kind in Poland.



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