Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), published by Izumiya Ichibei. No. 4 (Yon) from the series “His Figure: Related Copies of Other Pictures, or Magic Lantern Slides of That Romantic Purple Figure” (Sono sugata Yukari no Utsushi-e), 1850. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Oban. Scripps College Collections, Gift of Mrs. Frederick S. Bailey, 2012.8.4.

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside Art Museum (RAM) presents “Genji’s World in Japanese Woodblock Prints,” running until Jan. 11, 2015, with a free, open-to-the-public Fall Exhibition Celebration on Friday, Oct. 3, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Featured in this exhibition is a rich array of woodblock prints by many of Japan’s leading print artists, including work referencing the original Genji story (on loan from the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College) and works predominantly drawn from the foremost collection of prints of “A Rustic Genji,” the extensive holdings of Paulette and Jack Lantz.

“The Tale of Genji” (Genji Monogatari), written over 1,000 years ago by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu (c.973–1014/25), has greatly influenced Japanese culture, as seen in paintings, short stories, novels, noh plays, operas, movies, manga, and anime. Genji is today celebrated both in Japan and abroad, but in the 19th century it emerged only sporadically as a motif in popular woodblock prints and it was another, Genji-related, story that was a resounding success.

In the late 1820s, when the writer Ryūtei Tanehiko (1783–1842), the print designer and book illustrator Utagawa Kunisada I (1786–1865), and the publisher Tsuruya Kiemon sat down together in Edo to plot the inaugural chapter of the serial novel “A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki” (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji), it is doubtful that any one of them envisioned that their actions would generate a new genre, Genji pictures (Genji-e), in Japanese woodblock prints that would flourish until the turn of the century.

During these 60 years, almost 1,300 original designs were created, of which many were very popular at their time of release.

Dr. Bruce A. Coats, professor of art history and humanities at Scripps College in Claremont, where “Genji’s World in Japanese Woodblock Prints” was on view in winter 2012, organized the exhibition. “This exhibition includes more than 50 prints that were issued in the 19th century but are in mint condition, with intense colors, intricate details and dramatic compositions — displaying some of Japan’s best woodblock printing techniques,” he says. “The artists Kunisada I and his followers were able to visually capture the excitement and emotions of the narratives and depicted ‘A Rustic Genji’ in appropriate and beautiful landscape settings.”

The story of “A Rustic Genji,” set in 15th-century Japan, is in many respects drawn from the classic novel. It retells the amorous adventures of Mitsuuji — the counterpart to Prince Genji — and is delivered in contemporary dialogue combined with kabuki theatrics. By 1838, and concurrent with the release of new “Rustic Genji” chapters, woodblock-print publishers and artists set out to exploit its success through the creation of individual-sheet prints that depicted the principal characters and the most exciting scenes.

Under Kunisada’s lead, the theme enjoyed enormous popularity and the craze that gave birth to these publications peaked in the 1850s and continued into the 1860s. Over 80 publishers had “Rustic Genji” designs on offer, and they engaged an increasing number of artists.

An elaborately illustrated book, written and edited by Dr. Andreas Marks, with contributions by Dr. Coats, Dr. Michael Emmerich, Dr. Susanne Formanek, Dr. Sepp Linhart, and Rhiannon Paget, accompanies the exhibition.

A private dinner reception for Paulette and Jack Lantz, Dr. Coats, exhibition donors, as well as prominent members from Scripps, RAM, and the Riverside art and international relations community, will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

“We are so pleased to work with our trustee Rose Mayes to bring exhibitions and programming to RAM that resonates with our diverse community,” says RAM Executive Director Drew Oberjuerge. “We are also grateful to Scripps Professors Mary MacNaughton and Bruce Coats for loaning us this well-received exhibition.”

The museum will also be holding a special Saturday afternoon art class for youth on Nov. 15 centered on Japanese-style woodblock prints and symbolism. The students will get a tour of this exhibit as part of the class. For more information on signing up for the class, visit the museum’s website.

RAM relies on the generosity of members and donors to support its exhibitions, education programs, and special events. A 60-plus-year-old, private, non-profit cultural arts institution housed in a National Historic 1929 building designed by Hearst Castle and AIA Gold Medal-winning architect Julia Morgan, the museum welcomes over 50,000 visitors a year.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 12 to 4 p.m. For information on exhibits, events, classes, memberships, or sponsorship opportunities, visit www.RiversideArtMuseum.org. Find RAM on Facebook (www.facebook.com/riversideartmuseum), Twitter (RAMRiverside), Instagram (@riversideartmuseum), and Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/ramarts).

Sponsored by: Robert Harris and Susan M. Rothermund; Walter and Betty Parks; Deborah Kotaka and Jim Ferrari; Japanese American Citizens League, Riverside Chapter.

Attributed to Okumura Masanobu (1686-1764), published by Yorozuya Seibei and Yorozuya Hikotaro. “Murasaki Shikibu,” from the book “Mirror of Beauties,” 1709. Hand-colored woodblock print; ink and color on paper. 11 7/8 x 7 13/16. Scripps College Collections. Gift of Mrs. James W. Johnson, 46.1.76.

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