Century of Japanese Prints


The Saint Louis Art Museum’s new show, Century of Japanese Prints presents a selection of modern Japanese woodblock prints. This exhibit differs markedly from the museum’s previous Japanese woodblock show, Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan. That one, as its name implies was martial in nature. This one is decidedly not. The exhibit unfolds over 100 years, but I have selected to share only three pictures here and they all happen to be from the same period. Commercial woodblock prints brought a modern sensibility to the traditions of ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world,” a school of Japanese art that depicted beautiful women, kabuki actors, landscapes, and scenes from everyday life that flourished in pre-war Japan. Kobayakawa Kiyoshi’s “Tipsy” depicts a “modern girl”, Japan’s answer to the 1920s flapper. Kawase Hasui excelled at night scenes and his pictures of famous places were popular with Western collectors. The Torii Kotondo print is a modern allusion to 8th-century poetry, where the lovelorn wife refuses to comb her hair in her lover’s absence. There were also a pair of Paul Jacoulet prints in the show too.

The most amazing part of our visit occurred by way of chance meetings. On our way into the museum, we met Susan. She, her daughter Annie, Dan and Anne did a version of the great American road trip. Has it really been seven years? Both moms took their children out west on this trip to LA art schools. Susan is retired now. She and her friend Lisa had been in the park enjoying some of our autumnal heat, but escorted us into the museum for a little cool down, don’t you know. Our other meeting was with a visitor to Saint Louis. Clark, a retired sports writer from Atlanta was in town for a wedding. He was friendly and we just struck up a conversation. Susan and Lisa breezed by again, on their way into the prints exhibit. Eventually, all good things come to an end and we bade farewell to him, but we did not leave the Slammer just yet.

Anne had to exit through the gift shop and then we lunched at Panorama, the museum’s relatively new and new to us restaurant. Anne had their regional artisan cheeses, with fig jam, tomato chutney and crusty bread. I had their spring zucchini, kale and mushroom entrée, with creamy goat cheese polenta and romesco sauce. What really intrigued me though was the sautéed airline chicken breast. I envisioned something à la TWA, but as it turns out an airline chicken breast is a meat cut, where the wing is left still attached.

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