Professor David Waterhouse, Dec 7 (fri), 4-6pm


Sponsored by Committee on Japanese Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies

Dec 7 (Friday), 4:00-6:00, CWAC 156


Professor David Waterhouse

Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, St. George


“Eight Views, The Foxes’ Wedding, Automata and Other Themes in Early Nishiki-e”


The commercial development in 1765 of Japanese colour prints in many colours (nishiki-e: literally “brocade picture”) saw the introduction of new artistic styles and subjects. This development was due above all to the Edo artist Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-70) and a handful of other artists, many of whom were his pupils; and to the initial sponsorship of private patrons in samurai and literati circles. Harunobu was by far the most prolific early artist of nishiki-e; and he is justly renowned for his portrayals of feminine beauty. However, his subject-matter ranged far and wide, and many of his prints incorporate witty allusions to classical literature, Nō drama, and Chinese and Japanese folklore. Still other prints reflect topical events and passing fashions. Very often the prints quote poems, in classical Japanese or Chinese; but with or without these it can be difficult for us today to recognise his allusions.


Over many years I have worked at intervals on a catalogue of 721 single-sheet woodcuts by Harunobu and his immediate followers in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A completely revised version of my English text will finally appear early in 2013, from Hotei Publishing in Leiden. It will comprise separate volumes of text and colour plates, in a slip-case.


In the course of this work I have been able to identify for the first time many of Harunobu’s allusions; and the catalogue will provide ample documentation. For this talk at the Smart Museum I have chosen to discuss a handful of recurrent themes in prints of Harunobu and his contemporaries, including prints which belong to series or sets: especially the Eight Views (hakkei), and the wedding ceremonies of foxes and humans. Still other prints turn out on investigation to depict automata (karakuri). If time permits I will also discuss Harunobu’s allusions to Nō plays, with which he evidently had considerable familiarity.


The talk will be illustrated with images from the Boston collection and other sources.



Persons with a disability who believe they need assistance are requested to contact in advance.



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