The Masters of Ukiyo-e: Utamaro, Sharaku, Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi. From the Collection of Ei Nakau’, an exhibition prepared in 2019 in connection with the centennial of official relations between Poland and Japan, is the first presentation of top-class masterpieces of woodblock print art from a Japanese collection in our country. This unique show stands out with the artistic quality of the works on display, and also has a significant symbolic dimension. Just as in the second half of the 19th century, Japanese woodblock prints come to Europe again, this time in the form of an exhibition shown in the ‘Japanese museum’ in Kraków.
The colour woodblock prints now shown at the Manggha Museum are works by the five greatest masters of ukiyo-e: Utamaro, Sharaku, Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi. The eighty pictures carefully selected by the Japanese collector himself take us into the very centre of the ukiyo-e world, its essence, emotions, and obviously, above all, its visual concretizations. They include famous depictions of beautiful women (bijin-ga) by Utamaro, expressive-grotesque portrayals of theatre actors (yakusha-e) by Sharaku, mystical series of landscape-cum-genre scenes by Hokusai and Hiroshige, as well as fantastical fairy-tale-like figures of men of arms (musha-e) by Kuniyoshi, as though transferred back in time from the 21st century. They represent the oeuvres of the greatest five ukiyo-e artists, who reshaped Western art by sparking the change of its visual language. It is noteworthy that most of them have not been exhibited in Poland before, and they include unique first editions and rare impressions.
The naturalistic yet atmospheric prints form a unique and moving vision of Japan, a mirror of time. These powerful studies, afforded by a rare ability to gain insight into the elusive phenomena of nature and everyday life, place the viewer in a singular position – that of a participant in the depicted world.