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Exhibition of Japanese Ukiyo-e Art Held at NTHU
In East Asia early spring is the season for admiring plum and cherry blossoms, and both of these figure prominently in the exhibition of Japanese art titled “Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection” currently being held at NTHU. The 46 prints and paintings in the exhibition are in the ukiyo-e (floating world) style popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1867) and feature various scenes of ordinary people engaged in such activities as viewing flowers and watching a performance.
 
Jointly organized by the NTHU Museum Preparatory Office and the National Museum of History (NMH), the exhibition is being held on the first floor of the Macronix Building, and will continue to the end of March; admission is free.
 
NMH director Liao Hsin-tien said that the Museum’s collection of about one hundred ukiyo-e prints was donated in 1998 by a Japanese collector keen on making these unique works of art more widely available to the public. The bulk of the artwork currently held by the NTHU Museum Preparatory Office was donated by Professor Yang Rur-bin of the Department of Chinese Literature, much of which was exhibited at the NMH in 2009.
 
Liao said that the term “ukiyo-e” originated from the Buddhist doctrine on the ephemeral and illusory nature of the phenomenal world. Over the course of its long development, ukiyo-e came to be noted for its exquisite depictions of folk life, with a delicate style giving vigorous expression to the lifestyle and aesthetics of the common people. “Ukiyo-e takes us back in time and shows us how Japanese people appreciated cherry blossoms a hundred years ago—an activity modern people easily relate to,” explained Liao.
 
NTHU Museum Preparatory Office director Ma Mengjing pointed out that most of the paintings in this exhibition were produced by artists belonging to the Utagawa school—the largest school of painting in the Edo period—including Utagawa Kunisada and Utagawa Yoshiiku. The exhibition is divided into four themes: “Feminine Beauty” depicting both geishas and working class women; “Performers” depicting scenes from the kabuki theater; “In Vogue” consisting of illustrations from popular novels; and “Landscapes” depicting famous tourist sites.
 
At the entrance to the exhibition space are two pictures of plum blossoms. Although these two works were made by different artists, the composition is similar; in the foreground are seen a handsome man and a lovely woman dressed in gorgeous robes, while in the background are seen plum blossoms reflected in the water. In addition to the details of the costumes and hairstyles, such details as the stone lanterns and tea set are also clearly depicted.
 
Ma pointed out that both of these works illustrate the costumes and hairstyles that were in vogue amongst the nobility of the time, and that upon noticing the woman with her elbows resting on the ground in the lower left of one of the pictures, viewers may well wonder if she is admiring the plum blossoms or the handsome man standing nearby.
 
Ma has just returned from a trip to Hiroshima, Japan, where the plum blossoms were already in full bloom, at about the same time when Taiwan was entering the cherry blossom season—both of which feature prominently in this exhibition.
 
Ma said that many of the works on display were done by Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865), widely regarded as the most famous and prolific ukiyo-e artist of his generation, and whose work was widely reproduced in the fashion magazines of the time.
 
Ma also said that some of Kunisada’s works caused quite an uproar when they first came out, especially those depicting controversial incidents.
 
In addition to his prints, Utagawa Yoshiiku also provided illustrations of current events for the Tokyo Daily News, such as the Mudan Incident, an 1874 Japanese punitive expedition against the aboriginal tribes in southern Taiwan. Ma said that the ukiyo-e paintings in this collection on the theme of war will be displayed in a separate exhibition in late April.
 
At the entrance to the exhibition is a miniature Japanese garden with a plum tree, stone lanterns, and white stones, which makes a great background for a souvenir photo.
 
In addition to receiving a limited edition guidebook, visitors have the unique opportunity to make their own ukiyo-e postcard print by using rubber stamps provided at the exhibition.
 
 
 

Painting by Utagawa Kunisada in the exhibition “Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection.” (Photo courtesy of NHM.)

Painting by Utagawa Kunisada in the exhibition “Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection.” (Photo courtesy of NHM.)

Painting by Utagawa Yoshiiku in the exhibition “Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection.” (Photo courtesy of NHM.)

Painting by Utagawa Yoshiiku in the exhibition “Panorama of a Flourishing World: Ukiyo-e from the NMH Collection.” (Photo courtesy of NHM.)

NTHU Museum Preparatory Office director Ma Mengjing at the opening of “Panorama of a Flourishing World.”

NTHU Museum Preparatory Office director Ma Mengjing at the opening of “Panorama of a Flourishing World.”

Visitors are invited to make their own ukiyo-e postcard print by using rubber stamps provided at the exhibition.

Visitors are invited to make their own ukiyo-e postcard print by using rubber stamps provided at the exhibition.

The 46 works in the exhibition depict people engaged in such activities as viewing flowers and watching a performance.

The 46 works in the exhibition depict people engaged in such activities as viewing flowers and watching a performance.

Admiring spring blossoms is a time-honored tradition throughout East Asia.

Admiring spring blossoms is a time-honored tradition throughout East Asia.

 At the entrance to the exhibition is a miniature Japanese garden with a plum tree, stone lanterns, and white stones—a fine background for a souvenir photo.

At the entrance to the exhibition is a miniature Japanese garden with a plum tree, stone lanterns, and white stones—a fine background for a souvenir photo.

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