Japan: prints and paintings of the Meiji era (1868-1912)

With the period of rapid modernization and westernization following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, few areas of Japanese life were unaffected. In the art world, social changes as well as the introduction of moveable print and photography led to a gradual disappearance of the Ukiyo-e woodblock print, although a few traditional print-makers continued to be active into the beginning of the twentieth century. In particular, Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839-92) produced Ukiyo-e style prints, some highly lyrical, but others often lurid in nature showing ghosts, murders, and scenes from the restoration wars. Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) depicted the many changes in Meiji society, his landscapes of the new Tokyo often using devices borrowed directly from the West. Meanwhile, in 1904 Yamamoto Kanae (1882-1946) started the innovative new Sōsaku Hanga ('Creative Print') movement.

In painting, a distinction developed between Nihonga ('Japanese-style painting') and Yōga ('Western-style painting'). During the early Meiji era, Yōga became dominant for a while as training methods underwent drastic change: the government set up western-style art schools which replaced the old master-pupil relationship. The pendulum swung back from around 1879 when the American Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) joined with Okakura Kakuzō (Tenshin, 1862-1908) in a movement to revitalize traditional Japanese artistic values with what were seen as desirable elements from Western art. To combat this trend, the Meiji Bijutsukai (Meiji Fine Arts Society) was founded in 1889. One of its leaders was Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924) who had recently returned from Paris, increasingly a mecca for Yōga artists. By 1907, both groups had achieved more or less equal status with the introduction of the Bunten (Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition) where both Yōga and Nihonga painters competed equally as in a French-style salon.

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