Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690 – 1850

The world’s unsurpassed collection of Japanese ukiyo-e paintings inaugurates the ROM’s new Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on June 2, 2007

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is proud to inaugurate the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal’s new Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall -- Canada’s largest gallery for temporary international exhibitions -- with Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690 – 1850. From June 2, 2007 to August 12, 2007 visitors will enjoy a vibrant and colourful overview of the ukiyo-e genre of painting that developed during Japan’s Edo period (or Tokugawa period, 1600-1868) -- one of the most alluring periods in Japanese history.

Drawn from the unparalleled collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Drama and Desire features approximately 80 exquisite ukiyo-e paintings, screens and hanging scrolls by major artists of the 17th to 19th centuries. These remarkable works explore such themes as the iconography of the “floating world” of Yoshiwara, the pleasure quarters of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), which was frequented by samurai, actors, and rich patrons.

The ROM is privileged to be the only Canadian venue to present this exceptionally beautiful exhibition,” says William Thorsell, Director and CEO of the ROM. “With Drama and Desire, we also introduce the new 17,000 sq. ft. Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, inside the new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal -- a truly magnificent and dynamic space for international exhibitions of this stature.”

The Ukiyo-e Genre:

Ukiyo-e (Japanese for “pictures of the floating world”) paintings developed in Edo as the city grew and prospered into Japan's major political and commercial centre. Masters of ukiyo-e painting explored the daily activities of the city's inhabitants and, in particular, detailed the stylish preoccupations of the world of the theatre and of the brothels. Drama and Desire examines these themes while exploring the development of the genre throughout the 17th to 19th centuries.

City life is the main subject of these colourful paintings, especially scenes from the entertainment district, filled with graceful geisha clad in the finest kimonos, flamboyant Kabuki theatre actors, sumo wrestlers and samurai. Samurai were not allowed in the Yoshiwara area but would visit regardless, having to leave their swords at the entrance to the area, which was surrounded by a moat and walls. For audiences today, these pictures are glimpses into another age and the “floating world”, a spontaneous and vibrant young culture that flourished in the urban centres of Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Each painting offers a unique opportunity to look at the life, history, fashion, culture and landscapes of the Edo period.


<p class="bodyText" "="">The Exhibition:

Many other institutions have ukiyo-e prints -- like the ROM, primarily from the Sir Edmond Walker collection -- but very few have paintings,” says Dr. Ka Bo Tsang, Assistant Curator, Chinese Pictorial Arts, in the ROM’s World Cultures Department. “The Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ collection of ukiyo-e paintings includes many donated by Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926). These have rarely been displayed or lent to other museums. Now the ROM, as part of the Architectural Opening of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal in June 2007, will be presenting them to the Canadian public.”

Drama and Desire is displayed chronologically in five sections ranging from early ukiyo-e, the birth of the woodblock print, the feminine allure, ukiyo-e lineage and an area devoted to Katsushika Hokusai, the most prolific artist of the genre.

With an Eye to Style 1690-1765: Early Ukiyo-e looks at images from the floating world generated during the one hundred-year period from the time of the appearance of Hishikawa Moronobu (the first artist to be described as an ukiyo-eshi) in the 1670s to the introduction of full-colour printing in 1765. Moronobu’s two large, six-panel painted folding screens, Scenes from the Nakamura Kabuki Theatre and the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter, and Theatre Signboard Depicting Scenes from the Play “Nishikigi Sakae Komochi” (attributed to the Torii School), are examples of this early period.

In 1765 the first full-colour woodblock prints were created. The section titled An Air of Innocence 1765-1780: Suzuki Harunobu and his Contemporaries captures the period in ukiyo-e history when the genre started to flower. While prints were created in wide variety, paintings became even more refined and elegant, in particular extravagant commissioned pieces. Katsukawa Shunsh’s Shakkyō, the Lion Dance depicts the monk Jakushō encountering a lion while travelling to China. This lion, who was playing with a peony, was the transformation of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. This encounter would be made over in the Edo period into a popular Kabuki dance.

Images of Feminine Allure 1780-1805: Torii Kiyonaga and Kitagawa Utamaro showcases the works of Kiyonaga (1752–1815) and Utamaro (1753–1806), whose prints of beautiful women represent the pinnacle of ukiyo-e. Rivals early in their careers, each expressed the feminine adult form rather than the childlike figures of previous artists. Kiyonaga’s women, as seen in his painting Two Women Beneath a Willow Tree, express a sense of naturalism -- with tall, elongated proportions -- while Utamaro’s are imbued with a deep sensuousness, bordering on the erotic, most noticeable in his work Young Woman Playing the Samisen.

Founded by Toyoharu (1735-1814), the Utagawa School established another distinctive female style and expanded its influence through expressive paintings of Kabuki actors by Toyoharu’s disciple, Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825). Establishing a Lineage 1780-1850: The Utagawa School highlights Toyokuni’s diligent training of his students, ensuring the dominance of the Utagawa lineage by the end of the Edo period. Toyoharu’s Pleasure Outing at Mukōjima to View Cherry Blossoms juxtaposes foreground and background figures as well as variations in scale to define the spatial relationship of his forms.

The final section, “The Man Mad About Painting” 1760-1849: Katsushika Hokusai, focuses on the artistic giant of ukiyo-e, whose career spanned more than 70 years (the longest of any ukiyo-e artist). Celebrated for his landscape prints, he also produced numerous incomparable images, including many privately commissioned deluxe prints, illustrated books, paintings, and commercially published prints. He also decorated everyday articles such as textiles, lanterns, banners, and festival floats. Woman Looking at Herself in a Mirror reflects his stylistic preference during the mid-1790s to early 1810s, when he desired to create images of greater imagination. Although Hokusai had many students, his daughter, Katsushika Oi, was his closest; her Three Women Playing Musical Instruments points to her father’s teachings.

Additional Information:

Admission to Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690-1850 is included with paid general admission. Admission prices (to be announced in March 2007) also include the ROM’s permanent galleries and special exhibitions:

· Ancient Peru Unearthed: Golden Treasures of a Lost Civilization

· Glass Worlds: Paperweights from the ROM’s Collections

· Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History

A fully illustrated English-only exhibition catalogue, published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is available in the ROM Museum Store ($65.99 hardcover; $45.99 soft cover plus applicable taxes). Edited by Anne Nishimura Morse, Curator of Japanese Art: Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the publication features essays by leading Japanese art scholars.

Drama and Desire is part of the Architectural Opening & Building Dedication of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on Saturday, June 2, 2007. In addition to a graceful new entrance and lobby, the ROM Museum Store, restaurants and special events spaces, the Institute for Contemporary Culture hosts its inaugural exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History in its new gallery on Level 4 of the Lee-Chin Crystal from June 2, 2007 to August 19, 2007. Curated by internationally acclaimed Japanese contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, History of History brings together more than 50 works, including contemporary photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto, beautiful historical Asian artifacts and unique natural specimens from the artist’s personal collection. More details on the public opening events will be announced in Spring 2007.

Both Drama and Desire and History of History complement the ROM’s commitment to presenting Asian art and architecture. In December 2005, as part of the Museum’s expansion and restoration project, the ROM opened its new wing for Asian art and archaeology on Level 1 of its historic Philosophers’ Walk building. The expanded and redesigned galleries include: Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China, Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art, Matthews Family Court of Chinese Sculpture, ROM Gallery of Chinese Architecture and the Gallery of Korea.

Originally created in 1986 through a generous donation from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and George Weston Limited, the new Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall is designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind and will feature 17 ft. high ceilings and approximately 17,000 sq. ft. of floor space, allowing the ROM to consolidate all major exhibitions within a single, flexible venue, housing different exhibitions simultaneously.

Drama and Desire was previously seen in Japan (under the exhibition title The Allure of Edo: Ukiyo-e Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) at Kobe City Museum (April 25 – May 28, 2006); Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts (June 17 – August 27, 2006); and Edo-Tokyo Museum (October 21 – December 10, 2006). The Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas is the first North American venue (February 11 – April 29, 2007), followed by the Royal Ontario Museum (June 2 – August 12, 2007); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (August 24 – December 16, 2007); and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (dates TBD).

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and was made possible by Fidelity Investments through the Fidelity Foundation.