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Mary Redfern. ‘Edo in Colour: Prints from Japan’s Metropolis’

Like fireworks exploding over Ryōgoku bridge on a summer’s night, woodblock prints lit up the city of Edo in intoxicating colour (Fig. 1). Saturating its streets with images of celebrity and prosperity, these comparatively affordable artworks belonged to a breathless celebration of Edo that permeated popular literature, theatre and fashion. Ever elegant, often playful, these images of the metropolis now known as Tokyo enveloped their viewers in a beautiful dream.

Featuring more than one hundred prints and printed books from the Chester Beatty’s permanent collection, the exhibition ‘Edo in Colour: Prints from Japan’s Metropolis’ (on view at the Chester Beatty from 5 February to 29 August 2021) considers the dynamic relationship between these works and the city that created them, with a particular (though not exclusive) focus on prints from the second half of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, spanning the Hōreki (1751–64) to Kyōwa (1801–04) eras of Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). Taking in canonical genres of actor prints, beauties, images of daily life, landmarks and landscapes, the exhibition considers these works in terms of Edo’s self-image. Reset obliquely into overlapping themes of bravura, chic, prosperity and place, each print is a lens onto an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of commerce and creativity.

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May/June 2020
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