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Making Meiji Red: Changing Dyes and Changing Meanings in 19th-century Ukiyo-e

December 4, 2014
Nichols Trustees Suite


The colors of Japanese woodblock prints were continually transformed throughout the 19th century, both in response to the colorants available and to the era’s sweeping social and cultural change. Scientific methods now allow for the precise analysis of the actual dyes of ukiyo-e, in particular the reds and purples that became pronounced after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. These colors are typically denigrated as “cheap imported aniline dyes” but the real story is far more complicated. join Henry Smith, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University, as he introduces new scientific research from both Japan and the United States about the material colors of nishiki-e and poses new questions about what Meiji red really meant.

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Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The Actor Ichikawa Sadanji as the Warrior Akechi Samenosuke, from the series The Seven Glorious Pleiades, 1876. Color woodblock print, ôban. Restricted gift of Mrs. Gerald Gidwitz.