Woodblock prints by Japan’s first modern artist debut at the Sackler Gallery during National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Debuting during the National Cherry Blossom Festival-– our local springtime celebration of Japanese culture–“Kiyochika: Master of the Night,” on view at Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery starting March 29th, shows a lost Tokyo, revealed through startling woodblock prints by Kobayashi Kiyochika, Japan’s first artist inspired by modern life.
When Kiyochika (1847-1915) returned to his birthplace, which he had known as Edo, in 1874, he found a city transformed. Renamed Tokyo (“Eastern Capital”), it was filled with railroads, steamships, gaslights, telegraph lines, and large brick buildings — never-before-seen entities that were now ingrained in the cityscape.
Self-trained as an artist, Kiyochika set out to record his views of Tokyo in a series of 100 woodblock prints.
An 1881 fire engulfed the city and ended the project, but the 93 works he had completed were unlike anything previously produced by a Japanese artist. Created primarily at dawn, dusk, and night, the prints depict subjects veiled in sharply angled light, shadows, and darkness.
The works on view are part of the Sackler Gallery’s Robert O. Muller Collection, which features among its 4,000 Japanese woodblock prints the most comprehensive survey of Kiyochika’s body of work, including the largest collection of his cityscapes.
*Images are digital copies of Kiyochika’s woodblock prints (ink and color on paper), part of the Robert O. Muller Collection at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery