Travels in California, part 2: The Printer's Eye at the Asian Art Museum

hunting for fireflies
Showing alongside “Seduction” at the Asian Art Museum is “The Printer’s Eye”, a selection of Japanese woodblock prints of the “floating world”. These prints were the mass-market equivalent of the more deluxe paintings on view in the first exhibition.

However, many of those displayed are rare examples of particular stages in the development of woodblock printing in colour. For instance, full colour printing in the form of brocade pictures (nishiki-e) is seen in several works by Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-1770), such as Hunting for Fireflies, from the 1760s. Yet the triptych Picking Tea in Uji by Kubo Shunman (1757-1820), with its unusual green colouring, illustrates the use of a limited palette from an experimental phase in the 1780s.

The exhibition also draws out the different sizing and formats of the paper on which the images were printed. These include the tantalizing pillar picture (hashira-e), as in Woman Holding an Umbrella by Ishikawa Toyonobu (1711-1785), from the 1740s. She wears tortoiseshell hair ornaments and an ivy-patterned raincoat, which might be derived from a Portuguese design. As in “Seduction”, themes of fashion and costume are very much to the fore in this enticing show.

The Printer’s Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
20 February to 10 May 2015

Above: Suzuki Harunobu, Hunting for Fireflies, 1767-8. Woodblock print; ink and colours on paper. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Image at

Below: Kubo Shunman, Picking Tea in Uji, late 1780s. Woodblock print, one of a set of three; ink and colours on paper. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Image at

picking tea in uji
Below: Ishikawa Toyonobu, Woman Holding an Umbrella, approx. 1740s. Woodblock print; ink with hand-applied colour on paper. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Image at

woman holding an umbrella