Dream Worlds

Stage Presence

Kabuki was born as a bawdy entertainment played out on the riverbanks of Kyoto. As it evolved into a stable theatrical form in interior settings and on stages, the circumscribed space for choreographed action suggested to artists a useful formula for depicting dramatic narrative action. This “theatricality” in Japanese prints embraces not only the obvious portraits of actors in scenes from popular plays but also incorporates the strong influence these productions had on reportorial images in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The challenge for those designers seeking to describe current events was found in the ever-growing popularity of still photographs and cinema.

Of all the print forms “revived” by Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) and others of the shin hanga school, theatrical prints—by virtue of their representation of traditional staging—remained the most stable in their content. Nonetheless, while modern print designers drew heavily on traditional conventions for their actor portraits, they also strove to reveal the personality behind the makeup and costume. Faces became less schematic and more particular, taking on volume, modeling, and individuality—and this distinguished the shin hanga portraits from their print ancestors.

 

 


 

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Woodblock print of two men. one playing flute-like instrument

(Artist) Tsukioka Yoshitoshi; Japan; 1883; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 35.5 x 70 cm (14 x 27 9/16 in); Purchase–Dr. Carol Master, Mr. and Mrs. Willard G. Clark, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert S. Feinberg

Protected: Stage Presence


woman holding yellow flower

(Artist) Kajita Hanko; (Publisher) Hakubunkan; Japan; 1905; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 22.5 x 31 cm (8 7/8 x 12 3/16 in); Robert O. Muller Collection

Protected: Beauty Personified

woman holding yellow flower

(Artist) Kajita Hanko; (Publisher) Hakubunkan; Japan; 1905; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 22.5 x 31 cm (8 7/8 x 12 3/16 in); Robert O. Muller Collection

Introduction