Tokyo Art Scene: 19th to Early 20th Century
Hokusai, Art Deco and Peter Rabbit
June 2, 2022
Art & Culture
Tokyo Art Scene is a biweekly report on ongoing art and design exhibitions around Tokyo. It features event listings for architecture, art, ceramics, design, fashion, fine arts, photography and print (both the modern and the traditional) as well as digitally-themed presentations.
The period between the 19th and 20th century claims to be the most progressive epoch in the development of the arts. From the flourish of woodblock prints between the 17th and19th centuries impressionism, surrealism, art nouveau and art deco emerged paving the creative path toward early modernism.
This week, we will take a look at three ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo covering these significant eras: Hokusai’s priceless collections of prints and sketches from the British Museum, art deco literature and decorative interiors, and the lovely drawings from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.
‘Hokusai from the British Museum‘
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is no stranger to art enthusiasts around the world. He lived for almost 90 years and is proclaimed to have produced over 30,000 paintings, sketches, woodblock prints and images for picture books.
Suntory Museum of Art is presenting “Hokusai from the British Museum―together with masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan” until June 12. It showcases about 110 selected works from over 800 pieces of the British Museum’s finest pieces by the great master. There is also a corner for collectors’ ancient works and writings, including materials about becoming an art connoisseur. The collectors and scholars made Hokusai’s works available to the British Museum and built the foundation of the collection.
Visitors can see Hokusai’s emblematic works, such as Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave, about 1830-33) and Clear Day with a Southern Breeze (Red Fuji, about 1830-33) from the famous series “Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji,” which the artist completed between the ages of 71 and 74. Hokusai had a special attachment to Mount Fuji and this was clearly evident in his outstanding “One Hundred Views of Mt Fuji” series as well. These two series have established him as the master of landscape prints.
Paintings of demons, flowers, birds and ornamental objects are also exhibited, including black and white prints from his unique picture books. Some works will be changed during the exhibition period. Check the website for updates.
- Now through Jun. 12, 2022
- Daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Fri and Sat until 8 p.m.)
- Tokyo Midtown Galleria 3F, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo - Map
- Access: Roppongi station, Exit 8 on Toei Oedo line and Hibiya line; Nogizaka station, Exit 3 on Chiyoda Line
‘Encounters with Art Deco Books‘
One of the most beautifully decorated museums in Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum was established in 1983 and designated as a Tangible Cultural Property of Tokyo in 1993. The original building was erected in 1933 as the residence of Prince and Princess Asaka. Enthralled by art nouveau and art deco, the couple commissioned French designers Henri Rapin and René Lalique to redecorate the interiors based on the two European art movements.
Once a year, the museum holds a special exhibition themed in Art Deco. This year, the exhibition “Looking at Architecture 2022: Encounters with Art Deco Books,” running until June 12, focuses on approximately 200 rare books and magazines from the art deco period of the 1920s and 30s. Documents and materials related to classical French decorative arts and the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris can be viewed. Examples are the popular French magazine, L’Illustration, Exposition Internationale de Paris printed in 1937 and two other L’Illustration magazines, La Maison No. 4491 (1929) and Interieures Modernes No. 4708 (1933) showing Rapin’s bright cover designs. Retrospective Harper’s Bazaar magazines with their beautiful cover art are also displayed.
The exhibition “re-enacts” period settings in some rooms to capture the stylish ambiance of the times. Art deco-inspired tableware, chandeliers, glass-etched windows, furniture, door and handrail decorations by Raymond Subes, as well as sculptural reliefs by Léon Alexandre Blanchot complement the nostalgic feel of the rare books.
The museum ticket includes a visit to the enchanting property garden.
- Now through Jun. 12, 2022
- Daily except Mon from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 5-21-9, Shirokanedai, Minato-ku Tokyo - Map
- ¥1,000 (Includes garden visit)
- Access: Meguro station, East Exit on JR Yamanote line and Tokyu Meguro line; Shiroganedai station, Exit on Toei Mita line and Namboku line
‘120th Anniversary Exhibition: Happy Birthday! Peter Rabbit‘
Children and storytellers around the world are familiar with English writer and illustrator Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) and her legendary children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. In celebration of the staggering 120 years since the book’s first commercial publication in 1902, Setagaya Art Museum is presenting the exhibition “120th Anniversary Exhibition: Happy Birthday! Peter Rabbit” until June 19, showcasing the largest collection of original Peter Rabbit watercolors in one place outside the U.K. The artworks were provided by the original publisher of the popular book, The Warne Archive courtesy Frederick Warne & Co., Victoria and Albert Museum, London and other sources.
Around 170 pieces are on view, including Potter’s illustrated letter and sketches of rabbits, the first privately printed edition and the original manuscript of the storybook. Enormous displays, like giant models of Peter Rabbit and a 180 cm-high birthday cake specially designed for the exhibition by The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction in the Lake District of England will amuse the visitors.
The exhibition traces the early life of Potter who took care of a Belgian hare when she was in her 20s. The hare, named Benjamin, inspired her to draw and paint. Unfortunately, it died in 1892. To fill the void of sadness, Potter brought home another rabbit she named Peter after the famous English rhyme and tongue twister Peter Piper. She then produced countless sketches of Peter the rabbit.
Potter published the first black-and-white printed edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by herself in 1901 and the second edition in 1902, distributing a total of 450 copies. When Frederick Warne & Co. stepped in—convincing Potter to add color to the illustrations—8,000 copies of the first commercial edition were released. In the years to come, the book’s success was astonishing, creating a demand for multiple reprints and translated editions in 48 languages. Today, more than 46 million copies have been sold, making it one of the bestselling books in history.
Studying the delicate hand-drawn illustrations and the rustic setting surrounding Peter Rabbit’s tale instills a deep sense of life’s and nature’s simplicity and innocence in those times, quite atypical in today’s modern animation.
- Now through Jun. 19, 2022
- Daily except Mon from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Setagaya Art Museum, 1-2 Kinuta-koen, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo - Map
- Access: Yoga station on Denentoshi line:; Bus from Seijogakuen-mae station and Chitose-Funabashi station on Odakyu line; Bus from Denenchofu station on Toyoko Line
These three exhibitions enrich our appreciation for the superior quality of art and design expressed in historical woodblock prints, book design and storybook illustrations over the last couple of centuries.
Get out this weekend to enjoy these works of art from the 19th and 20th century and any of the other wonderful surprises that the Tokyo art scene has to offer!
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