Japanese, 1797–1858Forest of Suijin Shrine and Masaki on the Sumida River
Color woodblock print
The Margaret McMillan Webber Estate 51.40.25
Saturday, September 13, 2008Sunday, March 1, 2009
The production of a Japanese woodblock print in the Edo period (1615–1868) was a complicated process requiring the efforts of many experts, including the artist, the publisher, carver, and printers. The expense of employing this team of specialized individuals was offset, however, by the ability to produce multiple prints rather than a singular art work, as was the case with painting.
When sales of the first edition—typically 200 copies—were brisk, the publisher would order another edition to replenish his stock. Such editions were known as atozuri (later prints). In atozuri production, the original artist was rarely consulted and specialized printing techniques such as subtle color gradations and embossing were often abandoned as the publisher sought to make less expensive prints for a broader market.
If reprinted multiple times, woodblocks gradually wore out. To compensate, printers used different—typically darker—colors than in earlier editions, and carvers had to repair the broken parts or even carve a completely new block. Prints from different editions, therefore, often exhibit surprising differences. Part of the enjoyment and connoisseurship of Japanese woodblock prints is in discerning these variations.
This exhibition features sixteen prints by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) with comparative examples from different editions. It's on view in the Louis W. Hill Jr. Gallery of Japanese Prints (239).