the magic in twilight

‘Water and Shadow’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts engenders a renewed appreciation for the emotional range printmakers can achieve.

article by LEE LAWRENCE | via Wall Street Journal

KAMIN(NO)
‘Kamin(no) Bridge, Fukagawa’ (1920), by Kawase Hasui. PHOTO: VMFA

Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Through March 29

An island silhouetted in the moonlight, yellow grasses drying on racks by a bright blue sea, steady rain falling on a solitary boatman, light lingering on a wall as surrounding shadows coalesce into night—these are some of the memorable scenes from “Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Made during the early years of the shin-hanga (new print) movement, which started in 1915, they are a far cry from their predecessors, the ukiyo-e or “floating world” prints, which depicted a demimonde of courtesans and actors along with dramatic vistas, using bold outlines, bright colors and flat, sometimes asymmetrical compositions. By contrast, this show’s more than 100 shin-hangaprints, many of them now in the museum’s permanent collection, use perspective and nuanced color to explore the magic in twilight and the beauty in the ordinary.

Yet they share an important feature: the full-color woodblock printing technique, which required the collaboration of a painter, a carver, and a printer working under the aegis of a publisher. As Japan opened its borders in the mid-1800s and modernity rushed in, this printing process began to die out. It was too labor-intensive compared with Western technologies used for reproductions, and for many artists it was too artisanal.

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