The presentation The beauty of Silence Japanese prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo will be opening in the Bonnefantenmuseum
on 15 January 2012. The presentation links up with a series of 'art on paper' exhibitions in the Bonnefantenmuseum, and revolves around the work of one of the great Japanese print artists of the turn of the last century, Tsukioka Kōgyo. Kōgyo became well-known for his popular depictions of the typically Japanese Noh theatre, which underwent a real revival at the end of the 19th century. He also depicted animals and landscapes. His technique in creating coloured woodcuts is so refined that it is indistinguishable from painting.
The year of Tsugioka Kōgyo's birth, 1869, coincided with great political and economic upheaval in Japan. From 1603 to 1868, the 'Shoguns' had held sway over a feudal power system, controlling all the distinguished families in Japan. Though the emperor was still the official ruler, he was in effect a hostage as well.
The emperor's power was restored in 1868, at the start of the Meiji period, named after the first 'modern' emperor of Japan. Emperor Meiji differed from the Shoguns in his interest in the West, including Western art. He also ushered in the industrial revolution in Japan, which had already spread from England and Belgium to Europe and the United States years before. Furthermore, he promoted a central government, with Tokyo as its economic and political centre, and gradually opened the borders of the closed-off and introspective country. However, this modernisation of Japan also went hand in hand with the rise of a strong nostalgia for the country's own past and for oriental values.
One of these oriental values, the classical and subdued Noh theatre, had thrived for centuries under Shogun rule and initially looked like becoming a victim of the modernisations. It recovered, however, by successfully convincing a new audience of its silent beauty. Through the efforts of several Noh actors, Japanese government officials and foreign visitors to Japan, a revival of this old form of theatre was set in motion. Add to this the interest of artists like Kōgyo's master Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92) and the fact that 'ordinary people' finally had the opportunity to become acquainted with this theatre form, and its revival was firmly established not only on stage, but also on printed paper.
The prints give a lot of information about the plays (often showing an important scene from the story), as well as the situations backstage. There are also prints of the singers and musicians, props and masks, and the construction of the stage itself. They are a gold mine not just for lovers of this old theatre form, but also for print collectors, as all the prints in this series are particularly well printed on the highest quality paper. Kōgyo also created series of prints of other subjects, including some wonderful prints of nature and birds.