Yoshida Hiroshi prints at the Ashmolean

yoshida window in fatehpur sikri
Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) was a leading figure in Japan’s Shin Hanga (New Print) movement, seeking to revive traditional ukiyo-e printing by combining Japanese techniques with Western elements. From November 1930, he spent four months travelling in India and South East Asia. Following his return, he produced 32 woodblock prints of scenes from his trip.

This magical exhibition presents a selection of images from Indian sites, mainly architecture and landscapes. There is a strong emphasis on the technical brilliance of Yoshida’s printmaking.  For instance, A Window in Fatehpur Sikri show a sepia-toned interior with three figures sitting near a carved lattice window. For this one scene, Yoshida used five woodblocks for the lattice; four nezumi-ban (grey blocks) to deepen the shadow tones; and four wari-ban (split blocks with tapered ends) for the reflections on the marble floor.

His landscape prints are equally captivating. In the Kinchinjanga series, he follows Hokusai and Hiroshige in presenting views of a mountain in different conditions – morning, afternoon and evening. He uses the same set of woodblocks for each print but varies the image with different colours and techniques, a process called betsu-zuri (separate printing). The result is a dream-like display of colour and light effects.

Yoshida Hiroshi: A Japanese Artist in India
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
9 June to 13 September 2015

Above: Yoshida Hiroshi, A Window in Fatehpur Sikri, 1931. Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper. Height 40.1cm; width 27.6cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image at http://www.mfa.org/collections. [Ashmolean image not online at time of writing.]

Below: Yoshida Hiroshi, Kinchinjanga – Afternoon, 1931. Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper. Height 27.6cm; width 39.8cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image at http://www.mfa.org/collections. [Ashmolean image not online at time of writing.]

yoshida kinchinjanga

Mughal India at the British Library

flywhisk

A deceptively large exhibition, although this should not have surprised me: it covers over 300 years of Mughal rule, from 1526 to 1858.  The 90 minutes I had at my disposal were barely enough to do it justice.  The exhibition design adds a definite sense of drama – cubic wooden frameworks casting interesting shadows, Indian music playing in the background.  It was slightly reminiscent of the British Museum’s show Shah ‘Abbas: The Remaking of Iran (2009), which used Islamic design elements.  Commendable efforts are made to explain the historical framework to the uninitiated: a slick computerized presentation takes you through key battles and shifting boundaries; the initial “Mughal Emperors” section offers a chronological presentation of the emperors via their portraits, the labels rich in little nuggets of murder and intrigue.  Paintings predominate, and demand detailed viewing, but this viewing is gloriously enriched by the inclusion of objects, some owned by the historical figures in question – a set of armour for horse and rider, a crown, a sword, a flywhisk encrusted with jewels.  Alongside are a range of historical documents, public and private, Persian and English, which, thanks to decent labeling, make the historical narrative all the more vivid.  Highly recommended.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire
British Library, London
9 November 2012 to 2 April 2013

Above: Flywhisk handle (morchhal). Mughal, first half of 17th c. Jade, set with gems and lined with silver. Private collection, courtesy of Simon Ray, London. Image at: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/mughalindia/large138080.html.

 

Drinking vessels from Asia at the British Museum

This might loosely be described as a show about “drinking culture”.  It explores the significance of water, tea and alcohol across Asia, looking at specific types of vessel that evolved in different regions: in South Asia, the lota and the kamandalu; in Southeast Asia, the kendi; in Korea, the kundika; everywhere, the ewer.  It matches vessels with related images – from Japan, a sake cup of lacquered wood by Heisensai Jokyu, shown with a woodblock print by Ichirakutei Eisui of a courtesan holding a sake cup.  This very structured approach had its merits but there was more to enjoy in certain “wildcard” items chosen, I think, to say something about the broader context – from Rajasthan, a glorious painting of the goddess Lakshmi, associated with fertility and good fortune, seated on a lotus flower, with a handsome pair of winged elephants pouring water over her from pitchers held high in their trunks.

Ritual and revelry: the art of drinking in Asia
British Museum, London
27 September 2012 to 6 January 2013

Above: Gaja-Lakshmi. India, Bundi, Rajasthan. Ca. 1780. Gouache on paper. Height 22.9cm; width 27.7cm. British Museum. Image: Trustees of the British Museum, at http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database.aspx.