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The Unfinished Print

Jan 28, 2024

In this episode of The Unfinished Print, I speak with Henry Smith, Professor Emeritus in the Dept. of East Asian Languages & Cultures at Columbia University.  Together we delve into the scientific aspects of Meiji woodblock prints, exploring the trajectory of Nishiki-e during the late Edo and Meiji eras. Additionally, we examine the significance of cochineal and naphthol dyes, and scrutinize particle sizes. Henry's scholarly contributions include groundbreaking articles on subjects such as Hokusai and the Blue Revolution, with the introduction of Prussian Blue to the Japanese woodblock aesthetic during the mid to late Edo Period. 

Join me in discovering how Henry's passion drew him into the enchanting world of Meiji woodblock prints, as we navigate the influence of Western collectors in Meiji Japan, exemplified by figures like English s urgeon William Anderson. Henry helps me in understanding the rich palette and the science behind Meiji prints, shaped by the infusion of imported dyes and pigments.

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Notes: may contain a hyperlink. Simply click on the highlighted word or phrase.

Artists works follow after the note if available. Pieces are mokuhanga unless otherwise noted. Dimensions are given if known. Publishers are given if known.

The funeral procession of Meiji Emperor at Nijubashi designed by Yasuda Hanpo (1889-1947)

Columbia Academic Commons 

Professor Henry Smith's article on the Japanese Student movement, here.

Peter Gluck - is an American architect who has won multiple awards and has designed buildings all over the world. He is the principal of GLUCK+, an architecture firm based in New York City. 

Professor Carol Gluck - is a Special Research Scholar and George Sansom Professor Emerita of History, Department of History at Columbia University. She has written multiple books and articles on Japanese history. 

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) - an American-Canadian journalist, activist who had written extensively on the life and death of North American cities such as New York City, and Toronto. Her book The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, is considered a classic in urban planning for the modern city and its subsequent decline. 

Robert Venturi (1925-2018) -  was an American architect and theorist known for his contributions to postmodern architecture. He, along with his partner and wife Denise Scott Brown, played a key role in shaping architectural discourse in the late 20th century. Venturi challenged the modernist principles that dominated architecture at the time, advocating for a more inclusive and eclectic approach. His book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) was where he critiqued the rigidity of modernist architecture and championed a more diverse and contextual approach to architecture. 

Metabolism (Japan) - The Metabolism movement was characterized by a group of young Japanese architects and designers who sought to address the challenges of rapid urbanization and rebuilding after World War II. Key principles and concepts of Metabolism in Japanese architecture are megastructures, prefabrication and modularity, biology and organic growth, and technological innovation. One special notable example of Metabolist architecture was the now demolished Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tōkyō.

Shinjuku: The Phenomenal City - was the exhibition Henry Smith discussed in this episode. It was exhibited December 16, 1975 to March 7, 1976 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. More info, here.

a+u magazine - also known as architecture and urbanism magazine, is a Japanese/English architecture magazine first published in 1971. More info, here

Kōji Taki (1928-2011) - was a Japanese author, architectural critic, editor, and key figure in the Metabolist movement. He played a significant role in shaping the discourse of contemporary architecture in Japan and was instrumental in promoting the ideas of the Metabolists.

Kappabashi - located in Tōkyō's Asakusa district, is a renowned destination for kitchenware and restaurant supplies. The street is lined with stores offering a diverse range of products, including traditional Japanese knives, sushi-making equipment, and unique culinary gadgets. Kappabashi is especially popular for its sampuru shops, where visitors can buy realistic food replicas commonly displayed outside restaurants. The area features a mix of large retailers and specialty stores, creating a charming atmosphere with its traditional Japanese architecture. It's easily accessible from Tawaramachi Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line.

fūkei hanga - are landscape images. These paintings and prints represent the natural world such as mountains, rivers, waterfalls. You can find these types of prints from the golden age of nishiki-e to shin-hanga, to today. 

Sunset at Tomonotsu (1940, 9"x14") by Tsuchiya Koitsu (1879-1942) and published by Watanabe. 

Mitaka - is a city located in the western part of Tōkyō, Japan. A very pretty and quiet part of the city it is famous for the Ghibli Museum, and Inokashira Park.

100 Views of Edo (名所江戸百景) - is a series of nishiki-e prints designed by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). It was published between 1856 and 1859 and consists of 118 or 119 prints, each depicting various scenes of Edo (Tōkyō). The prints show the beauty, diversity, and everyday life of Edo, capturing different seasons, landscapes, landmarks, and activities. Hiroshige's use of color, composition, and atmospheric effects contributes to the series' enduring popularity. The scenes range from bustling urban areas and landscapes to rural views, often incorporating elements of nature and traditional Japanese culture.

Suruga-chō (1885)

Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji - one of Hokusai's most iconic series, known for its various depictions of Mount Fuji in different seasons, weather conditions, and different vantage points. The series includes "The Great Wave off Kanagawa." Published between 1830-1832 the series portrays Mount Fuji in different perspectives, everyday life, as well as the special importance of Mount Fuji in Edo culture. The series had a large impact on Western artists and thinkers, including the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Umezawa Hamlet-fields in Sagami Province (1830-31)

Santa Barbara Museum of Art - is an art museum located in Santa Barbara, California, USA. Its collection contains art works from all over the world, focusing on paintings, sculpture, and paper works. More info, here

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) - was a painter and woodblock print designer famous for his war prints on the First Sino-Japanese War (July 25, 1894- April 17, 1895). Kiyochika captured the transitional period in Japanese history as the country underwent rapid modernization and Westernization during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Onoguchi Tokuji Destroying The Gate at Jinzhoucheng (1895

14 3/4" x 28 9/16") published by Daikokuya.

Utagawa School - was a school of print designers starting with Utagawa Toyoharu (1735-1814). He employed one point perspective (vanishing point) in his print designs, being influenced by Western perspective. The influence of the Utagawa school goes far in Japanese print history and one of its most successful. This schools print designs of kabuki portraits, beautiful women (bijin-ga), and landscapes are excellent. Some famous names attributed to the Utagawa school are Utamaro (1753-1806), Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858). A fine description of this school can be found, here at Artelino. 

Newly Published Picture of the Battle of Jiuzan-shan in China (9 3/16" x 13 1/8") attributed to Utagawa Toyoharu

Okumura Masanobu (1686-1784) - was a Japanese nishiki-e artist and print designer who lived during the Edo period. He is credited with pioneering the use of full-color printing and is considered one of the early masters of the art form. Okumura Masanobu was known for his contributions to bijin-ga and yakusha-e (actor prints). He played a role in the development of nishiki-e as a popular art form. More information can be found at Viewing Japanese Prints, here

Large Perspective Picture of Evening Cool by Ryōgoku Bridge (ca. 1748) hand coloured

Sumida River - is a major river that flows through Tōkyō, Japan. It plays a significant role in the history, culture, and landscape of the city. The Sumida River flows for approximately 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) through Tokyo, originating from Kita City and flowing into Tōkyō Bay. It passes through several wards, including Kita, Adachi, Sumida, Taito, Koto, and Chuo. The river has been portrayed in nishiki-e prints for generations, along with its bridges. 

Kobayashi Kiyochika the Sumida River at Night (9.76"x14" - est. 1881)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) - is considered one of the last “masters” of the ukiyo-e genre of Japanese woodblock printmaking. His designs range from landscapes, samurai and Chinese military heroes, as well as using various formats for his designs such as diptychs and triptychs.

Yamayoshi Genba no jō Chikafusa (14 5/16" x 9 15/16" - 1848/49) published by Sumiyoshiya

Ike no Taiga (1723-1776) - was a Japanese painter of the mid-Edo period, known for his skill in the Nanga style, which was influenced by Chinese literati painting. He is best remembered for his role in promoting a cross-cultural exchange of ideas between Japan and China in the realm of art and aesthetics during the Edo Period.

Landscape with Pavilion (1750)

Akita ranga painting - a style of Japanese painting that emerged in the late Edo period, particularly during the 19th century, in the region of Akita in northern Japan. The term "ranga" literally translates to "Dutch painting" and reflects the influence of European painting styles, particularly Dutch and Western techniques, which were introduced to Japan through trade with the Dutch during the Edo Period. More info, here

Satake Shozan (1748-1785) - Pine Tree and Parakeet (68.11" x 22.83") est 1700's, painting.

Shinobazu Pond - is a large pond located within Ueno Park in Tōkyō, Japan. Ueno Park is a spacious public park that is home to several museums, a zoo, temples, and beautiful green spaces. Shinobazu Pond is one of the central features of Ueno Park, and it is renowned for its scenic beauty and historical significance.

hanmoto system - is the Edo Period (1603-1868) collaboration system of making woodblock prints in Japan. The system was about using, carvers, printers, and craftsmen by various print publishers in order to produce woodblock prints. The system consisted of the following professions; publisher, artist, carver, and printer.

William Anderson (1842–1900) was an English surgeon and collector with a significant impact on the appreciation and understanding of Japanese art in the late 19th century. Anderson became a passionate collector of Japanese art, amassing a vast and diverse collection that included nishiki-e, ceramics, textiles, and other traditional artworks. His collection grew to be one of the most significant and comprehensive of its time. His bequest laid the foundation for the development of Japanese art studies in the West, influencing subsequent generations of scholars, collectors, and enthusiasts.

ezōshiya - is a type of Japanese bookstore that specializes in selling "ehon" or picture books. Ehon are valued not only for their storytelling but also for the quality of illustrations. These books played a role in promoting visual literacy and appreciation of art in Japan. Nishiki-e had been sold at these book stores during the Edo Period. 

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) is widely regarded as one of the most significant woodblock print designers in Japanese history. His diverse portfolio includes prints ranging from landscapes and books to erotica and sumo. Kunisada worked during the vibrant era of nishiki-e alongside notable artists such as Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), and the aforementioned Kuniyoshi. This period represents a rich and abundant chapter in Japanese woodblock print history.

Ichikawa Danjurō VIII as Hanzaemon published by Tamaya Sōsuke (1852) 13 9/16" x 9 3/16"

cochineal - known as yōko in Japanese, is a red dye taken from the dried bodies of female cochineal insects. These insects are native to Central and South America, where they feed on the sap of prickly pear cacti. Cochineal has been used for centuries as a natural dye, valued for its vibrant red color. An article about synthetic pigments and cochineal in Japanese woodblock prints and co-written by Henry Smith can be found, here

William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926) - was an avid collector of Japanese art. His extensive travels to Japan from 1882 to 1889, coupled with a close friendship with Ernest Fenollosa, enabled him to amass a remarkable collection. Bigelow's acquisitions played a pivotal role in promoting Japanese art in the Western world.

World Of The Meiji Print - is a book published by Weatherhill in 1991 and written by Julia Meech-Pekarik. It describes how nishiki-e developed and evolved during the Meiji period. 

Roger Keyes (1942-2020) - was a distinguished scholar of Japanese woodblock prints. His expertise was showcased in his 1982 dissertation, a comprehensive study of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). Additionally, Keyes authored the book 'Ehon: The Artists and the Book in Japan' in 2006, further solidifying his significant contributions to the understanding of Japanese printmaking.

Amy Reigle Newland - is a Japanese print scholar who has written various articles and books upon the subject. One of my favourite books by Newland is her book about Toyohara Kunichika, Time Present and Past: Images of A Forgotten Master (1999). 

Bruce Coats - is Professor of Art History and the Humanities at Scripps College, Claremont, California. He has contributed to several books on Japanese woodblock prints, one of my favourites is Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints (2006). 

James A Michener (1907-1997) - was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, scholar, and esteemed academic known for his extensive contributions to various literary genres. Beyond his celebrated literary achievements, Michener also delved into the world of Japanese prints, demonstrating a multifaceted curiosity and intellectual versatility. His exploration of Japanese prints added another layer to his diverse body of work, reflecting a deep appreciation for Japanese art and culture.

Honolulu Academy of Arts - founded in 1922 by Anna Rice Cooke, evolved into the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA) in 2012. Rice-Cooke's vision for a multicultural art space led to its creation, with an endowment and land donated by the Cooke family. The museum's architectural style blends Hawaiian, Chinese, and Spanish influences. Over the years, HoMA expanded, adding educational wings, a cafe, and more, while its permanent collection grew to over 50,000 pieces. In 2011, The Contemporary Museum merged with HoMA, unifying as the Honolulu Museum of Art. More info, here

shinbun nishiki-e - the Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked a pivotal moment in Japan's history, prompting significant societal upheavals. Tōkyō, formerly Edo, became the new centre of Imperial Japan, and by 1871, the traditional feudal class system had been abolished, accompanied by compulsory education laws. This era of profound change spurred creative responses to economic challenges. Starting in the summer of 1874, innovative individuals introduced shimbun nishikie, vibrant single-sheet woodblock prints that served as colorful souvenirs. These prints, produced until 1876, were not just visually striking but also narratively engaging, recounting news articles in a format ideal for oral storytelling. Renowned artists like Ochiai Yoshiiku and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, both students of the celebrated Utagawa Kuniyoshi, played a key role in illustrating these captivating snapshots of an evolving Japan. An excellent article on shinbun nishiki-e can be found here, from All About Japan. 

Fighting Off A Wolf by Sadanobu II (1848-1940) from the Nichinichi Shinbun (9 1/2" x 6 3/4") 

Satsuma Rebellion -  occurring in 1877, was a last stand against the modernization policies of the Meiji government by disaffected samurai from the Satsuma domain. Led by Saigō Takamori (1828-1877), a key figure in the Meiji Restoration. The rebellion sought to restore imperial power and resist the centralization efforts of the government. The conflict ended in a decisive government victory at the Battle of Shiroyama, where Saigō met his end, marking one of the final samurai-led uprisings in Japan's history.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) -pioneered the art of nishiki-e, becoming the first to craft multi-color woodblock prints. Renowned for his exquisite designs, Harunobu's subjects often revolved around the portrayal of beautiful women, shunga (erotic art), and classical poetry. His innovative techniques and thematic choices significantly influenced the genre during the Edo period in Japan.

Lovers Walking In The Snow (1764-1772) (11 1/4"x8 1/8")

Emperor Meiji born Mutsuhito (1852 – 1912), was the 122nd Emperor of Japan, reigning from 1867 until his death in 1912. His reign, known as the Meiji Era, marked a transformative period in Japanese history. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule, with Emperor Meiji playing a central role in Japan's modernization and westernization efforts. During his era, Japan underwent significant political, social, and economic reforms, propelling the country into the ranks of major world powers. Emperor Meiji's reign is often associated with Japan's rapid modernization and emergence onto the global stage.

sōsaku-hanga -  also known as creative prints, is a printmaking style primarily, though not exclusively, characterized by prints created by a single artist. Originating in early twentieth-century Japan, alongside the shin-hanga movement, this style emphasizes the artist's direct involvement in the entire printmaking process — from design and carving to printing. While the designs, especially in the early stages, may appear rudimentary, the concept of artists producing their own prints marked a significant departure from the traditional model where a select group of carvers, printers, and publishers collaborated in the creation of woodblock prints.

shin hanga - is a style of Japanese woodblock printmaking that emerged in the early 20th century, marking the end of the nishiki-e period. Originating around 1915 under the direction of Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962), the art form responded to the foreign demand for "traditional" Japanese imagery. Shin hanga artists focused on motifs like castles, bridges, famous landscapes, and bamboo forests. The style was initiated when Watanabe discovered Austrian artist Fritz Capelari (1884-1950) and commissioned him to design prints for Watanabe's budding printing house. This collaboration led to the evolution of shin hanga into a distinctive new style of Japanese woodblock printing. The shin hanga movement thrived until its inevitable decline after the Second World War (1939-1945).

fan print (uchiwa-e) - are crafted in the form of flat, oval fans using materials such as rice paper or silk. These prints are designed to be functional fans, allowing for practical use while showcasing artistic designs.

Amy Poster - is the curator emerita of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

aizuri-e - are woodblock prints made entirely with shades of blue. This style gained popularity during the Edo Period. 

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) - was a nishiki-e print designer and author during the Edo Period. His print designs are famous for beautiful women and large head prints (ōkubi-e).


surimono (date unknown - Edo Period)

Hiraga Gennai (1729-1779/80) - was a versatile Japanese polymath and rōnin during the Edo period. His diverse talents spanned pharmacology, rangaku (Dutch learning), medicine, literature, painting, and invention. Notable creations include the erekiteru (electrostatic generator), kankanpu (asbestos cloth). Gennai authored satirical works such as Fūryū Shidōken den (1763) and Nenashigusa (1763), along with essays like On Farting and A Lousy Journey of Love. He also wrote guidebooks on male prostitutes, including the Kiku no en (1764) and San no asa (1768). Employing various pen names like Kyūkei and Fūrai Sanjin, he is most recognized by the name Hiraga Gennai.

Yokohama-e -refers to a genre of Japanese woodblock prints depicting scenes from Yokohama, a pivotal port city during the late Edo and Meiji periods. These prints showcase the influx of international influences, featuring foreign ships, traders, and cultural exchanges. Yokohama-e captures the dynamic transformation of Japan as it opened to the world, portraying a vivid visual narrative of the city's bustling trade and encounters between Japanese and Western cultures.

View of Foreigners' Houses on the Beach Street Seen From Yokohama Port (ca. 1873) by Hiroshige III (1842-1894)

Sadahide Utagawa (1807-1878/79) - was a designer of nishiki-e during the late Edo and early Meiji Periods. He trained under Utagawa Kunisada and depicted medieval Japanese scenes, collaborating on the 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō, and prints related to Yokohama-e.


Battle of Ōei (ca.1848)

Sir William Henry Perkin (1838–1907) was a British chemist who is renowned for his accidental discovery of the first synthetic dye, known as mauveine or mauve. This significant breakthrough occurred in 1856 when Perkin was attempting to synthesize quinine, a treatment for malaria, from coal tar derivatives. Instead, he obtained a purple-colored substance while working with aniline, leading to the creation of the vibrant purple dye.

napthols - are special dyes used in making colourful fabrics on handlooms. They get their name from a specific part in their makeup called an azo group. These dyes are known for making colors really bright and long-lasting on fabrics. They help create fabrics in lots of different colors, like orange, brown, yellow, scarlet, golden yellow, black, red, violet, and more. 

orpiment -  sekiō in Japanese, is a bright yellow to orange-yellow mineral composed of arsenic trisulfide (As2S3). It has been historically used as a pigment in painting and for other decorative purposes due to its vibrant color. Often found in association with realgar, another arsenic sulfide mineral, orpiment has also been employed in traditional medicine and alchemy. However, its toxic nature limits such applications, and it's crucial to note that handling orpiment, especially in powdered form, poses health risks due to the presence of arsenic.

Marco Leona PhD - is the David H. Koch Scientist at Large at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has written several articles on Spectroscopy and art. 

Estée Lauder (1906-2004) - was a pioneering American businesswoman and the co-founder of the renowned cosmetics company Estée Lauder Companies. Alongside her husband Joseph Lauder, she established the company in 1946, starting with a few skincare products she developed herself. Estée Lauder's hands-on approach to marketing and emphasis on quality turned her brand into a symbol of luxury. Initially selling to friends, she built a global beauty empire with a diverse product line including skincare, makeup, and fragrances. Today, the Estée Lauder Companies remain influential in the beauty industry, with a portfolio of well-known brands. Estée Lauder's legacy is marked by her significant contributions to the cosmetics world and her establishment of an enduring and iconic beauty brand.

The Adachi Institute of Woodblock Prints - is a print studio located in Tōkyō. Established in 1994 in order to promote and preserve the colour woodblock print of Japan. More information, in English and in Japanese. 

The 47 Rōnin of Akō - were a group of samurai who sought revenge for the unjust death of their master, Lord Asano Naganori, in 1701. After Asano was forced to commit seppuku (a form of ritual suicide), his loyal retainers, the 47 Ronin, meticulously planned and executed the revenge, successfully avenging their lord's honor. The story is a celebrated example of bushido (samurai code) and loyalty in Japanese history and folklore.

smalt - is a deep blue pigment that has been historically used in art and ceramics. It is composed of finely powdered glass, often colored with cobalt oxide to achieve its distinctive blue hue. Smalt was popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods as a substitute for expensive blue pigments like lapis lazuli. Artists would mix smalt with binders to create blue paint for their artworks. Smalt has some drawbacks, including a tendency to fade over time and a vulnerability to darkening when exposed to certain environmental conditions.

Keiji Shinohara - is a Japanese mokuhanga printmaker who apprenticed under Uesugi Keiichiro in Ōsaka. He is the artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. More info about Keiji can be found here, and here.

Yamado-ike from the series Eight Views of Hirakata (2006) 11"x15":

gum arabic - is a sap from two types of Acacia tree. In art it is used as a binder for pigments which creates viscosity (depending on how much or little is applied to your pigments) for your watercolours and oils. Rachel Levitas has a fine description on how she uses gum arabic in her work, here

Bakumatsu Period -  refers to the final years of the Edo period, specifically from the mid-19th century to the early 1860s. The term "Bakumatsu" can be translated as "end of the shogunate." This era was characterized by significant political, social, and economic changes that eventually led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule in the Meiji period.

Bunsei Period - was a period in Japanese history which lasted from April 1818 - December 1830 CE

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