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The Golden Age of Colour Prints Exhibition

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by Peter Dewar (subscribe)
Businessman and writer. Peter nurtures a special interest in Korea and Japan.
Event: -
Ukiyo-e - The Cult of Celebrity in Early Japan
A blockbuster exhibition of Japan's most popular art form is on show at the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM). It features wood-block prints by three of Japan's most famous artists - Torii Kiyonaga, Kitagawa Utamaro and Toshusai Sharaku - and is drawn from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's collection.

Shepparton Art Museum Exclusive
Ukiyo-e, Japanese Art Blockbuster, at Shepparton


A trip to Shepparton's Japanese sister city by SAM Director, Kirsten Paisley, to see the world renowned collection led to the coup. Fate intervened. Japan was in the midst of a national disaster and the prints from the Museum of Fine Arts needed a home to end their world tour, and so, a path was open for Shepparton to host the only Australian showing.

Opening Night
Kirsten Paisley, Director of SAM, opens the Golden Age of Colour Prints


Wood-block prints - Ukiyo-e - are stunning to look at. Standing in front of one ... it seems to summon you. You can find yourself staring for minutes at the precise lines and vivid colours that combine to create images of beauty - images that leave you with a sense of wonder.

With a hundred on show, expect to spend a little time at the gallery.

Thankfully, SAM have produced a coffee-table book of the prints on sale at their gift shop. It's priced, very reasonably at just over twenty dollars.

It was a triumph of commercialism in seventeenth century Japan that gave us this spellbinding art form. A wave of affluence had swept over the Japanese middle-class keen to spend their money on kabuki theatre, kimono fashions, sumo wrestling, sensual pleasures and the outdoors - not unlike our sports-mad, celebrity culture today.

Publishers of the time were only to happy to satisfy the growing demand for popular images.

In their day, the wood-block prints were not expensive, perhaps the cost of a meal out. A family might want a print of their favourite actor to decorate their home and commercial printing houses pushed artists for even more refined pieces.

The events coinciding with the exhibition are also exciting. They alone, are worth the two hour drive up the Hume Highway. On opening night, for instance, one hundred lucky guests were treated to a dinner informed by Tokyo at the time of Ukiyo.

Japanese Drummers
Japanese Drummers on Opening Night


Luckily, it doesn't end there.

On Mother's Day, May 12, there will be a Japanese infused high tea at the art museum. You can be entertained by the sounds of a Japanese flute while enjoying a selection of savouries and sweets.

A wood-print workshop and lectures by art experts will also be conducted during the time the exhibition.

In a masterstroke, SAM have organized an event that has something for art lovers, historians, and anyone who loves a bit of decadence.

Tickets are available online.

The Golden Age of Colour Prints: Ukiyo-e from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Why? An Exclusive One-off Exhibition of Japanese Wood-Block Prints
When: March 8 - June 2
Phone: (03) 58329861
Where: Shepparton Art Museum 70 Welsford St Shepparton
Cost: Adults $12 Concessions and Friends of SAM $8
Your Comment
I've just been learning about block printing in the UK and India; learning about Japanese printing should make an interesting comparison.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12107) 2086 days ago
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