Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Hokusai and Hiroshige in Bristol

Hokusai, Fine Wind Clear Morning, 1830-32
If you happen to be in Bristol this autumn I recommend a visit to the exhibition of woodblock prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition is in three parts, with the first group of works on display until January. As I understand it, the prints belong to the museum but generally spend their days in storage - the fate of most works on paper in our conservation-sensitive times.

They are, to quote Arthur in the radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, brilliant! I must admit that I tend to pick up books of, say, Hokusai's '36 Views of Mount Fuji', and lose interest fairly rapidly. In reproduction I think you lose the texture and subtlety of the original prints, which are wonderfully delicate. You could imagine them breaking free from their mounts and fluttering off down Park Street like exquisite insects.

Although the influence of these artists on 19th and 20th century European art has always been acknowledged (most notably perhaps by Van Gogh), I'm not sure we quite appreciate how great that influence was. But then Hokusai and his followers also owed a debt to Western art, particularly Dutch painting and print-making, which found its way into Japanese culture during the 17th and 18th centuries via the Dutch trading post at Dejima, Nagasaki.

Masters of Japanese Prints: Hokusai and Hiroshige Landscapes is at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until January.

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