An exhibition celebrating the prints that captured the cultural spirit of the Japan's Edo period.
Japanese woodblock prints can be traced back as far as the 8th century, although at that time they were mainly used to disseminate Buddhist scriptures. By 1795 new technology had made it possible to produce single sheet prints in a whole range of colours both quickly and affordably, meaning this new method of artistic output was now available to the masses.
Lady Lever Art Gallery’s exhibition explores the explosive popularity of print works during this period. Focusing on the cultural life of Edo (modern Tokyo) – which had rapidly urbanised as Japan’s merchant class grew – these images encompass everything from seductive courtesans and young lovers to celebrities and sumo champions.
On display are some 40 prints by leading artists including Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Kunisada and Toyohara Kunichika, the latter of whom is considered to be the last great Kabuki theatre artist.
Gaining unprecedented access to the leading actors of the day, Kunichika's work became increasingly vulgar and scandalous in subject. Horrified, the government placed a universal ban on actor prints in the 1840s, censoring Kunichika's art and denouncing him as immoral.