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The exhibition which is an exceptional presentation of the subject of the Japanese woman features images and impressions from her life, both in paintings and woodblock prints. They show the unique secrets of the Floating World (Jap. ukiyo), the secrets of intimate scenes.
Depictions of this world, known as ukiyo-e, captured the sense of ephemerality and impermanence that was the essence of the Edo period (1603–1868). During that time, after years of fratricidal strife, Japan was united in peace and the country’s capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo).
The exhibited works tell a tale of woman, her grace, emotions and ecstasy. They are a portrait of a timeless beauty as well as a colourful commentary on the ideal of beauty, hairstyle and fashion. At the same time, an important part of the narrative touches upon the different aspects of feminine strength: from the taming of a skittish horse to the charismatic power of women warriors leading the attack on a battleﬁeld.
The subject here is not simply woman, but a much broader ‘idea of woman’. This enigmatic phrase is given a colourful explanation in actor prints. They portray onnagata or kabuki actors specializing in women’s roles. Raised to conduct themselves with delicate grace, the men trained in this peculiar type of acting used the means of expression available to them to convey femininity in every aspect of stage – and occasionally offstage – presentation.
Between delight and adoration, between coquetry and rejection, between submissiveness and rapture… A whole range of emotions is on display, evoked by eminent masters of the ukiyo-e genre. They include such artists as Suzuki Harunobu (1724–1770), known as the father of the polychrome woodblock print, Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), rendering his compositions in sophisticated elongated formats, and Toyokuni (1769–1825), the founder of the Utagawa school, whose models, both women and male actors playing female roles, are given subtly slimmed-down proportions. The portraitists of feminine beauty include a renowned artist of the so-called golden age of woodblock printing, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), who is represented in the collection of the National Museum in Krakow by more than a hundred exceptionally valuable prints. Such masters as Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) will introduce the viewer to the metaphysical world, with its alluring, frightening and disturbing spectres and transcendent images.
The works on display depict a feminine beauty that resists the passage of time. Another attraction of the show is the opportunity to analyze the technical virtuosity of Japanese woodblock printing.
The exhibition is enriched by paintings thematically linked to the Floating World, in the form of traditional kakemono hanging scrolls.
A narrative about many aspects of femininity, our presentation is rounded out with kimonos, obi sashes and examples of handicraft: a dressing table, mirrors, combs and hair sticks.
The exhibition is based on prints held by the National Museum in Krakow. All objects come from this unique collection, which has been formed over a period of one hundred and thirty years through gifts from eminent donors, and expanded through acquisitions.
Visitors will see more than one hundred and twenty woodblock prints, mostly from the collection donated to the National Museum in Krakow by Feliks Jasieński in 1920. This group of objects, exhibited many times in Poland and abroad, has long been associated worldwide with the Museum, which provides specialist care and conservation of the collection.
Curator: Beata Romanowicz, Beata Pacana Coordinator: Maria Grzywacz Under the honorary patronage of the Embassy of Japan in Poland
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