Examine the changing image of Japanese women though prints, book illustrations, and photographs made in Japan from the 1890s to the 1930s. During this crucial period of rapid modernization, traditional ideas of ideal beauty and behavior intermingled with imported styles and concepts. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the exhibition begins with ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the late Meiji era (1868–1912) and postcards that include both photographs and artists’ depictions. A recent gift of kuchi-e prints—color woodblock frontispieces for books of the early 1900s, usually romantic fiction—makes up the exhibition’s core. Shin hanga prints from the 1910s and ‘30s depict beautiful women in both traditional and modern styles.
These works can be interpreted in several ways: as glamorized reflections of the lives of Japanese women during a time of rapid social change; as idealized expressions of heterosexual male desire; and as metaphorical images of Japan itself, with the young women standing in for their entire country and its search for national identity.
Above: Itō Shinsui, Woman Looking at a Mirror (detail), 1916. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Chinese and Japanese Special Fund.