York Art Gallery to mark reopening in May with rarely seen Japanese prints show

Cat On Windowsill, The Festival Of The Cock, Asakus Ricefields, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust.

YORK Art Gallery’s display of rarely seen Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, complemented by much-loved paintings from the gallery collection, will go on show in a new Spotlight Series from May 28.

Marking next month’s reopening of the Exhibition Square gallery with Covid-secure measures and social distancing, Pictures Of The Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints will feature prints by prominent Ukiyo-e artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, along with works by those influenced by Japanese art, York artist Albert Moore and Walter Greaves among them.

York Art Gallery’s display will highlight the significant impact of Japanese art on the western world and the consequential rise of artistic movements such as Aestheticism and Art Nouveau.

View Of Mount Hatana In Kozuke Province, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1853. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust

Jenny Alexander, associate collections curator at York Art Gallery, says: “We’re thrilled to introduce this new Spotlight Series at York Art Gallery. The designated space will allow us to share a variety of works from our collection, starting with a selection of beautiful Japanese Ukiyo-e prints.

“Ukiyo-e translates as “pictures of the floating world”, referring to the transitory nature of life. Visitors will see delicate prints depicting scenes celebrating everyday life, through themes such as landscape and travel, actors and courtesans and folk tales.”

Jenny continues: “Some of these works have not been displayed in more than 15 years, so we’re thrilled that many visitors will be able to enjoy them for the first time.

Evening View Of Takanawa, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1832-1838. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust

“Featuring these exceptional prints alongside firm favourites from our collection will enable visitors to reconnect with the works and view them from a different perspective, which is really exciting.”

The free-to-visit display in the Upper North Gallery will be the first of the new Spotlight Series that will change periodically to show highlights from the gallery’s permanent collections.

Pictures Of The Floating World will delve into the history of the works, explaining why Japanese art became increasingly influential during the 18th and 19th centuries. Through the variety of artwork on display, visitors will see how western artists were inspired, in particular, by the use of line and colour, and simultaneously how Japanese artists were influenced by western artists’ use of shading and perspective.

The Waterfall Of Nikko-Zan In Shimotsuke Province, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1853. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust