Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e and Ephemeral

Last updated on July 16, 2021


Mennello Museum of American Art Presents Two Concurrent Exhibitions— Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e and
Ephemeral: American Impressionists and the Influence of Japan

ORLANDO, FLORIDA [July 16, 2021] — Mennello Museum of American Art is pleased to announce two concurrent exhibitions—Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e, organized by the Reading Public Museum (Reading, PA) and Ephemeral: American Impressionists and the Influence of Japan, which celebrates the significance of Edo period printmaking and its prominent role in European and American Impressionism. The exhibitions are on view from August 13 - November 7, 2021.

Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e examines historical perspectives on women and their depiction in art during the Edo period of Japan (1603 – 1867). The exhibition is comprised entirely of the iconic and widely recognized form of Japanese art, featuring woodblock prints capturing the spirit of the ukiyo-e style (pictures of the floating world). The woodblock prints highlight female characters in literature, kabuki theatre, and poetry; the courtesans and geisha of the Yoshiwara district; and wives and mothers from different social classes performing their station's duties gain some insight into the lives of women in pre-modern Japan.

Considered the most recognizable genres of ukiyo-e, bijinga (pictures of beauties) epitomize the floating world's ideals of style and sophistication. As the essence of femininity, these beauties were passive, attentive, and demure. The exhibition portrays women in Edo society who played an active role in their lives, which is represented in the period's literature and drama.

Featuring over 50 woodblock prints, including works by ukiyo-e masters Suzuki Harunobu, Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kunisada, Kikugawa Eizan, and Utagawa Hiroshige, the entire exhibition is on loan from the Reading Public Museum's permanent collection.

Concurrently with the museum's exhibition of Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e, Ephemeral presents nine American Impressionists of the early 20th century from the Michael A. and Marilyn L. Mennello Foundation and Our Mennello Museum Collection. Lilla Cabot Perry, Henry Salem Hubbell, Pauline Lennards Palmer, and Milton Bancroft are among the artists who will be on display illustrating the second wave of American Impressionists who embraced this modern style of painting.

Impressionists found substantial impetus in Japanese art, especially in Japanese woodblock prints, incorporating elements of the art form into their own works, and thereby creating an enduring artistic relationship. The influence of Japan is depicted in paintings as noticeable inclusions of material culture – a display of wealth and sophistication. Avant-garde artists were more discerning, subtlety integrating philosophies on the appropriate subject matter and compositional arrangement inspired by popular Japanese art. It was particularly evident during the Impressionism movement, which began in 19th century Europe and flourished in 20th century United States. Impressionist paintings are widely known for their delicate strokes of intense colors with minimal detail on the subject, specifically reflecting the artist's desire to capture brief moments of everchanging light and color. However, these artists are indebted to the lessons adopted from ukiyo-e. Subjects of scenes from everyday lives, slightly flattened perspectives, long asymmetrical compositions, decorative patterning of objects, and surprising crops of the natural and manufactured floating worlds.

"Ukiyo-e surged during Japan's Golden Age, inspired France's Golden Age, and continues to impassion art-making today," said Katherine Page, Mennello Museum of American Art curator of art and education. "I'm thrilled we're presenting this arrangement of woodblock prints embodying the diversity of women's lives and art making of the Edo Period during Japan's Golden Age. These beloved and well-known prints, on loan from Reading, are an opportunity to bring the same level of awe and inspiration to our visitors that 19th- and 20th-century Impressionists experienced. We can connect this timeline of historical art influence by presenting 20th-century American Impressionists in concert, making these exhibits all the more special."

Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e images
Ephemeral: American Impressionists and the Influence of Japan images

Mennello Museum of American Art and its exhibitions are generously supported by the City of Orlando and the Friends of the Mennello Museum of American Art. Orange County Government provides additional funding through the Arts & Cultural Affairs Program and United Arts of Central Florida. Sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and Visit Orlando. The exhibition is funded in part by the generous donors to the Frank Holt Fund, Strengthen Orlando and the City of Orlando.

Mennello Museum of American Art is owned and operated by the City of Orlando.


Image Credit: Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760 – 1849), The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, 1830 – 1831, ink on paper, 10 x 14 1/2 inches, Museum Purchase, 1930.388.1. Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania.

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