Interpretive Resource

Departmental Gallery Exhibition: City and Country: Views of Urban and Rural Japan

Departmental Gallery Exhibition: City and Country: Views of Urban and Rural Japan

In the first half of the 20th century, Japan’s cities were developing at an astounding rate. The change was particularly noticeable in Tokyo, where the Ginza district bustled with shoppers and Shinjuku was home to fashionable cafés. The new urban landscape became a favorite subject for print artists such as Oda Kazuma (1882–1956) and Kasamatsu Shiro (1898–1991), who portrayed the crowded streets and nighttime entertainments. At the same time, the fast urbanization process sparked nostalgia for the scenery of the countryside and the hometowns (furusato) of the mind’s eye. In particular, many felt that foreign collectors would not buy prints featuring the modern city; rather, they would prefer a more traditional and serene vision of Japan. As a result, artists such as Kawase Hasui (1883–1957) and Yoshida Hiroshi (1876–1950) produced idealized visions of rural Japan. The publisher Watanabe Shozaburo (1885–1962), with whom these artists worked, was an amateur art historian and entrepreneur whose strategy was to produce prints that would appeal to Western collectors. This proved successful, and Watanabe’s business was thriving not long after the loss of his shop and the blocks and prints within during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Works ranging in date from the 1910s to the 1950s that depict both the city and country are on display in this exhibition. Additionally, recently acquired prints by Hiratsuka Un’ichi (1895–1997) given by Theodore and Luann Van Zelst are a special feature of the installation.

The Clarence Buckingham Gallery of Japanese Prints honors the early and intense commitment of Chicagoan Clarence Buckingham (1854–1913) to the Art Institute. Beginning in the 1890s, Buckingham, assisted by advisors such as curator Frederick W. Gookin and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, assembled a collection of Japanese woodblock prints of exceptional quality and range.

One year after Buckingham’s death, his collection was lent to the Art Institute. His sister, Kate, continued to acquire works, and in 1925 she formally gave the prints to the museum, along with an endowment to maintain and expand the collection. The original group of about 2,500 works has grown through purchases and gifts to more than 16,000.

Because prints are works on paper, they are susceptible to fading with exposure to light. Therefore, the artwork in this gallery is changed every three months, and the lighting is maintained at a low level to protect the prints.

20th century, Japanese

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