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Utagawa Hiroshige

The Moon Reflected

28 November 2007 — 20 January 2008

This exhibition, curated by renowned British artist Julian Opie, consisted of woodblock prints by 19th century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige. An intervention in Ikon’s normal sequence of contemporary exhibitions, it demonstrated the relevance of historical work to current artistic practice, and provided another look at printmaking which is an important part of the gallery’s programme.

The Moon Reflected was the result of Opie’s longstanding interest in Hiroshige. Rather than being an exercise in contemporary/historical mix-and-match, it couldn’t have been more serious and personal from the British artist’s point of view. His preference for Hiroshige’s later work is significant as it tends to be broader in style and less narrative, thus accentuating more aesthetic concerns.

Born in Tokyo in 1797, Hiroshige studied printmaking and painting, becoming an illustrator of comic poetry and story books. By 1830, he was concentrating on making prints of famous Japanese landscapes. This exhibition featured three series as well as a number of the artist’s sketchbooks and the famous Snow, Moon and Flowers triptychs. Beautiful and unpretentious, these works, assembled from three separate prints, epitomise Hiroshige’s vision, extraordinary for their breadth and ambition.

The artist’s last series, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856-58), was originally intended to be 100 prints but there are more in fact due to popular demand. The imagery features fascinating details amidst a range of evocative landscapes. Rivers, hills, bridges and temples are depicted in these breathtaking compositions, each work revealing their different aspects depending on the weather, time of day and season. Hiroshige tragically died before completing this series, at the height of his creative powers.

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, containing an interview between acclaimed British artist Julian Opie and Timothy Clark of the Japanese Section, The British Museum, priced £14.99.

The Moon Reflected was kindly supported by The Japan Foundation. With grateful thanks to the Trustees of the British Museum for loaning the works in the exhibition.

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