Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints

Smart Museum

The rise of color printmaking in France in the late nineteenth century is often attributed to a fascination with Japanese woodblock prints, which began to circulate in great numbers after the opening of Japan in 1854. But a closer look at the history of color printmaking in these two cultures reveals that the story is not so simple. Parallel traditions were flourishing in both France and Japan well before 1854. And, when the two cultures met, the channels of technical and aesthetic influence flowed in both directions, not merely from East to West. Embracing these complexities, Awash in Color explores the roles, functions, and technology of color in French and Japanese prints. It features more than one hundred and twenty prints and illustrated books from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, drawn from the Smart Museum’s substantial holdings as well as major public and private collections across the country. These exquisite works reveal two unfolding traditions—each shaped by artistic experimentation and technological progress—that came to complement each other aesthetically, even while preserving their own distinctive features.