The Nation's Premier Antiques Center

Japanese Woodblock Prints

Japanese woodblock print, titled "Senzoku Pond" by Hasui, c. 1928, from the Akasaka Collection

The earliest example of Japanese woodblock printing dates to the 8th century when Empress Koken commissioned one million small wooden pagodas with Buddhist text to be made and distributed freely among believers in temples all over the country. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that the first secular woodblock prints started to appear, and wide adoption of the art didn’t take place until the Edo period (1603-1867). Today, the best known form of woodblock printing is ukiyo-e, which translates to “scenes of the floating world,” derived from the Buddhist concept that all earthly joys are transient. A late master of this style, Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) evoked this fleeting beauty in his seasonal prints.

Two Rabbits and Bush Clover Under Moon ("Hagi no Usagi") by Koson, c. 1931, from the Akasaka Collection

The process of woodblock printing begins with an image drawn on washi (Japanese paper), which is then glued to wood, after which, the wood is cut away based on the outlines of the drawings. Finally, a small wooden object called a baren is used to press the paper against the inked woodblock leaving an impression of the ink on paper. Known in Japanese as moku hanga, the Japanese style differs from Western woodblock printing as it uses water-based ink instead of oil-based inks allowing for far greater expression of color and subtlety.  Ohara Koson (1877-1945), one of the foremost producers of animal and flower prints in the 20th century, uses this wider range to its fullest effect, producing hauntingly expressive animals as above. The Akasaka Collection Gallery can be reached here about these and other exquisite prints.

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