The University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art presents Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints, a new exhibition that examines the distinct yet overlapping traditions of color printmaking in France and Japan. On view from October 4, 2012 to January 20, 2013, the exhibition presents more than one hundred and thirty exquisite prints and illustrated books from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Along with well-known posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and iconic ukyio-e "images of the floating world," featured objects also include virtuoso color intaglio prints made before the French Revolution and boldly colored Japanese prints that took advantage of chemical dyes imported from Europe.
With these breathtaking works—drawn from the Smart's substantial holdings as well as major public and private collections across the country—Awash in Color weaves a dual history, touching on the social structures, commercial forces, and technological innovations that helped to shape color printmaking in both cultures. Together with an accompanying catalogue, the exhibition adds breadth and depth to our understanding of one of the most fruitful artistic exchanges between East and West.
Awash in Color is curated by Chelsea Foxwell, Assistant Professor of Art History at The University of Chicago, and Anne Leonard, Smart Museum Curator and Associate Director of Academic Initiatives.
The rise of color printmaking in France in the late nineteenth century is often attributed to a fascination with Japanese woodblock prints, which began to circulate in great numbers after the opening of Japan in 1854. But a closer look at the history of color printmaking in these two cultures reveals that the story is not so simple. Parallel traditions were flourishing in both France and Japan well before 1854. And, when the two cultures met, the channels of technical and aesthetic influence flowed in both directions, not merely from East to West.
"By bringing together a selection of color prints from each culture over the course of two centuries, we hope to demonstrate how viewers in each locale became accustomed to a certain range of techniques and palettes that would then be challenged by the rapid influx of prints from the other side of the world in the latter half of the nineteenth century," explain exhibition curators Chelsea Foxwell and Anne Leonard.
Awash in Color is organized into multiple sections that detail the parallel and intersecting developments in color printmaking in France and Japan from 1700 to 1915. This organization emphasizes a comparative approach to each tradition, allowing visitors to explore broad patterns of patronage; differences in woodblock, intaglio, and lithographic techniques; and anxiety over the development of automated commercial processes that were a harbinger of a new modern age.
In organizing the exhibition, the curators sought out the freshest, most well-preserved color prints available, drawing on the Smart's substantial holdings as well as major private and public collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Public Library; Brooklyn Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Museum of American History; New York Public Library; Spencer Museum of Art; and University of Chicago Library.
The works on view reveal an astonishing variety of color palettes—from early woodcuts that were hand painted with vegetable dyes to later prints saturated with brilliant aniline colors. The exhibition likewise presents a tremendous range of subject matters, reflecting changes in the social landscape. Visitors will encounter prints depicting actors and the theater, beautiful women, landscapes, cityscapes, nobility, commoners, still life, botanicals, biblical stories, Parisian nightspots, and more.
Many public programs will accompany the exhibition. Unless noted, all programs are free and open to the public and take place at the Smart Museum of Art. The public may register for lectures and workshops at http://smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/calendar/register.