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Home | Exhibitions | Past Exhibitions | 1997 | The Floating World (July 12 - September 28, 1997)

The Floating World: Japanese Art of the Late Edo

Scene from an unidentified Kabuki play
Utagawa Kunisada
(Japanese, 1786-1864)
Scene from an unidentified Kabuki play
Color woodblock print
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hamilton

This exhibition featured a selection of the Museum's colored woodblock prints by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) that depict various aspects of the Kabuki theater and its actors, as well as objects that represent Japanese traditional costume and decorative arts. Among these objects were loans from MU's Museum of Anthropology and other Missouri collections. Four main themes: fans, weapons, tea, and dress in two- and three-dimensional works complemented the exhibition.

The city of Edo, (modern day Tokyo), was founded at the beginning of the seventeenth century as the capital of the Tokugawa line of Shoguns. These shoguns ruled Japan until the restoration of the emperor in 1868, and it is this time period that became known as the Edo. During the Edo period Japan became isolated from the rest of the world due to the fear of invasion on the part of her rulers. This cultural isolation resulted in a uniquely Japanese form of art and artistic expression.

A Modern Prince Genji
Utagawa Kunisada
(Japanese, 1786-1864)
with Ando Hiroshige
A Modern Prince Genji at Tago Bay, from Furyu Genji (detail)
Color woodblock print
Gift of Alvin John Accola
in memory of his wife Katharine Mize Accola

The Floating World displayed both objects and woodblock prints from the end of the Edo period, before the opening of Japan's borders and the consequent introduction of western ideas and traditions. This exhibition featured a selection of woodblock prints by Utagawa Kunisada as well as some of his contemporaries. Kunisada lived in Edo from 1786 until 1864, during a period of political and social instability. Throughout his working life Kunisada consistently produced large quantities of popular prints or Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world). These works included the three main types of Ukiyo-e prints: pictures of beautiful women, pictures of the Kabuki theater and its actors, and occasionally landscapes. In The Floating World exhibition the majority of the prints were scenes from the Kabuki theater, a popular subject at this time.


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