At the 1867 Paris World’s Fair, Japanese block prints—previously unknown to most European and American audiences—took the art world by storm, reawakening interest in block printmaking in Europe and America. Western artists were captivated by Japanese printmakers’ way of viewing the world. Japanese prints depicted everyday subject matter (including landscapes, birds, flowers, fashionable women, and famous actors), unlike the traditional European focus on religious or historical scenes. The style was equally compelling—Japanese prints featured cropped compositions and bird’s-eye views, rather than European one-point perspective. Numerous exhibitions of these prints soon followed, and their popularity spread throughout Europe and America. These color woodcuts so impressed artists in Europe and America that a revival of interest in the possibilities of block printmaking occurred—the International Block Print Renaissance.
This exhibition, organized in conjunction with The International Block Print Renaissance Then and Now, explores the rich thematic, stylistic, and technical connections between Japanese and Western block prints from the late 19th century. It features Japanese and European block printmakers, including Utagawa Hiroshige, Imao Keinen, Utagawa Kunisada, William Nicholson, Emil Orlik, and Felix Valloton.
The exhibition is guest curated by Barbara Thompson. Thompson is an independent curator and collector devoted to prints. As the granddaughter of artist C.A. Seward, a prime force behind the Wichita-based artist collective Prairie Print Makers, Thompson continues as a treasured partner with the museum to develop WAM’s American print collection and community engagement.