Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints

National Museum of Scotland

4 October 2013 – 2 February 2014

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Prints from the museum's comprehensive archive introduce the larger-than-life characters from the 19th century Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Kabuki, the traditional form of all-male theatre which incorporated elements of drama, music, dance and acrobatics, was a hugely popular form of entertainment in Japan in the 19th century thanks to thrilling plot lines and emotional conflicts.

It so transfixed its audiences, they would clamour to acquire woodblock prints of their favourite actors and the latest productions, with pictures often selling in their thousands.

This meant publishing houses were able to commission the top artists of the era to produce the compositions, but importantly, the prints remained affordable to the average person on the street.

These artists, under pressure to dream up endless streams of subject matter, started to produce pictures of backstage scenes or life offstage – similar to the modern day celebrity magazines which portray actors going about their everyday lives.

National Museums Scotland holds approximately 4,000 Japanese woodblock prints in its archive, acquired in the 1880s at the peak of the Japonisme craze in Europe.

Primarily focused on the 19th century, the exhibition brings together some of the most interesting examples from the collection and includes many rarely seen prints.

The style and themes of later pictures reflect a period of unrest in Japan, brought about by the collapse of the feudal system in 1868 and the following period of modernisation and social reform.

In addition, they also provide an interesting insight into how the introduction of new technology and dyes expanded the possibilities for artists and publishers.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5pm 26 Dec and 1 Jan, 12 – 5pm Closed 25 Dec

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