Beauty, Intricacy and Desire: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints

Musée Guimet takes us on a unique visual exploration of female body and its place in rare Japanese woodblock prints.

Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
Women diving for abalone. From Hundred Poems Explained by a Nurse. Katsushika Hokusai (1835-1836) Courtesy National Museum, Tokyo

With its new exhibition, titled Miroir du désir – Images de femmes dans l’estampe japonaise (Mirror of Desire – Images of Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints), Musée Guimet unveils a part of its rich collection of Japanese woodblock prints belonging to the Edo period (1603-1868).

Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
Young Ladies viewing Cherry Blossoms at Asukayama, Torii Kiyonaga (1787)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

A unique visual experience, the exhibition provides a mesmerising tour through different representations of the female body in ukiyo-e and shunga, Japanese art forms of woodblock printing and painting art forms, that flourished during the Edo period.

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Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
Woman Sitting on Veranda, Kitagawa Utamaro
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier
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While the traditional woodblock printing art form of ukiyo-e included depictions of women, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, landscapes, flora and fauna as well as erotica, the erotic art of shunga represented an idealised, fantastical world of eroticism and sexual relationships. With a focus on the depiction of women and female bodies in Japanese traditional woodblock prints, Musée Guimet’s exhibition seeks to go beyond the usual connotations of pornography and eroticism generally associated with ukiyo-e and shunga. The works on display include depictions of courtesans, the pleasure district Yoshiwara, as well as 18th and 19th-century shunga prints.

Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
In the Boat, Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier
Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
After the bath, Kitagawa Utamaro (1801)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Guimet, Paris) / Harry Bréjat

More than depictions of women as objects of an often violent male desire, the exhibition seeks to provide a significant insight into female behaviour and the place of women in the Japanese society during Edo Period through woodblock prints showing women in the comfort of their private spaces away from a male presence, such as when roaming in a boat or under flowering trees, or when preparing to bathe or to sleep.

On display at Miroir du désir are works by some of the greatest names of the ukiyo-e and shunga genre, including Suzuki Harunobu, Hosoda Eiri, Kitagawa Utamaro and Katsuchika Hokusai. The exhibits also include several rare compositions by Japanese artists, such as Utamaro’s famous triptych “Abalone Fisherwomen” (c. 1797), which is a rare example of female nudes in Japanese woodblock prints (other than in erotic woodblock prints) depicting ama (literally “sea women” who dive for abalones on Japan’s Pacific coast since centuries).

Miroir du désir: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints at Musée Guimet
Abalone Divers, Kitagawa Utamaro (1797-1798)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

Miroir du désir – Images de femmes dans l’estampe japonaise runs through October 10, 2016 at Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet, Paris.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Where: Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet, 6, place d’Iéna, 75116 Paris
Dates: July 6 to October 10, 2016
Timings: All days except Tuesdays, from 10 am to 6 pm
Tariff: €9.50 (Full), €7-Free (Reduced)
More information: Musée Guimet’s website

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