Review: Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints

Decorative Paper with Design of Chrysanthemums.Unknown Artist. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

The use of trees, flowers and festivals as subjects in Japanese prints of the Edo period (1615-1867) more than any other subject matter, reflected the realities, ambitions, aspirations, and tastes of the time. The pleasures of festivals, grand events, and entertainment, as well as the expansive landscapes depicted in woodblock prints, allowed people to “escape” the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Edo (modern day Tokyo). Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints (January 22 through August 28, 2011) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston celebrates the popular subjects of flowers and festivals as they appear in this medium.

Plum Garden of Kameido Hiroshige I, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Denman Waldo Ross Collection

Ukiyo-e or “images of the floating world” woodblock prints depict commoners, specifically those living in urban centers and the red light district. Prints served as advertisements highlighting the latest trends in travel, the women of the red light district, local cuisine and other hedonistic pursuits. In their own time, these prints were not meant to be great works of art, but rather, items that anyone could own and dispose of at their own discretion.

In Buddhism, the term ukiyo-e was used to describe the impermanence of the world humans lived in, the ever changing nature of everything that is around us. In the Edo period, this term took on a life of its own and referred to the world of the pleasure district “a quarter of the city which houses courtesans, their attendants, and the theaters, where Kabuki plays and Bunraku performances were presented” (Penelope Mason,  History of Japanese Art, 278).

Maple Leaves at Kaian-Ji Temple in Tokyo, from the series Thirty Six Selected Flowers Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Mrs. Arthur Croft—The Gardner Brewer Collection

Changes in the four seasons, small or drastic did not go unnoticed for printmakers in Edo. Works by the artists in the exhibition capture the subtleties of the transition between seasons, from the delicate structure of plum blossoms to the bright golden color of maple leaves in autumn. Starting clockwise, we embark on a delightful journey, with a print of a warbler perched on a red plum branch alongside prints of plum and cherry trees in full bloom. The changes in the seasons unfold before our eyes as one wanders from print to print.

Among the most fascinating prints on view are those by Suzuki Harunobu, known for being one of the first artists to create polychrome prints and Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858), Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shegenobu, 1826-1869) Kitagawa Utamaro I, Torii Kiyonaga and Hokusai among others.

Suzuki Harunobu’s prints are richly textured and highly sophisticated due to their incredible colors and details. Throughout his artistic career, Harunobu attempted to depict well known beautiful women of his time, but since ukiyo-e artists were not allowed to depict respectable, well known ladies, most were subject to censorship. This explains the shift from depicting women to prints that  emphasized the landscapes of Edo and its surrounding towns. A pioneer in landscape prints, Katsushika Hokusai laid the ground work for what eventually became a phenomenon among commoners; the purchasing of prints as travel mementos.

Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo 1866, Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

Memorable woodblock prints in the exhibition include Hiroshige’s Plum Garden of Kameido 1856-58, later copied by Van Gogh in Flowering Plum Tree and Hiroshige’s II Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo, 1866 from the series Thirty-six Selected Flowers. The Museum of Fine Arts has the finest, oldest and largest collection of Japanese art outside of Japan. The prints in Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints are just a few dozen out of thousands in the museum’s vast holding.

Review: In the Footprint

On Wednesday night I had the opportunity of seeing In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards presented by The Civilians and Arts Emerson at the Paramount Theatre in Boston. The show is a combination of theatre, dance and music and “draws inspiration from interviews with the real life players in the story of a divided borough: residents both old and new, community activists, developers and politicos.”

I found the show inspiring and thought provoking, touching on race relations in America, community activism, environmental racism, political corruption among many other issues. “In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards” will be performed until January 23rd at the Paramount. I highly reccommend it!

The Atlantic Yards development project in Brooklyn is one of the largest and most controversial projects in the country. It is very complex with many layers and players; this is a good site to learn more about it.

Opening night, @ArtsEmerson held a Twitter contest and my tweet appeared on the Paramount marquee. Check it out:


This past weekend, I visited the Cambridge Public Library to admire the beautiful restoration of Van Brunt and Howe’s 1888 handsome Richardsonian Romanesque building executed by Ann Beha Architects, as well as the stunning addition by William Rawn and Associates (both Boston firms). I’ll post photos of the library at a later date, but  I wanted to share a public work of art I found interesting.

The landscape (which is not picture in this post), as I learned later was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (the firm has offices in Cambridge), but I couldn’t find out who created the work which wraps around the entrance to the garage underneath the library). Do you know who created it? Was it also part of Michael Van Valkenburgh’s design?

Review: Scaasi: American Couturier

Woman’s ensemble in two parts (dress), designed in 1958, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

I saw Scaasi: American Couturier for the second time at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and I’m still not blown away as much as I was with High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture exhibition at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell. The show closed on January 02, 2011 and if you did not get to see it, you missed out on a well organized and richly presented exhibition.

Back to the Scaasi show.  The MFA recently acquired fashion designer’s Arnold Scaasi’s archives and over 100 of his designs, yet only 28 are on display in the Scaasi: American Couturier show. The Fashion and Textile Arts gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts is small and feels cramped, sometimes taking a toll on the fashion and textile exhibitions that are shown in the space. The last fashion exhibition I saw at the MFA which blew me away, was Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006 (Nov. 12, 2006 through Mar. 18, 2007) which was shown then in what will become the new wing for contemporary art this coming Fall.

The Scaasi: American Couturier is an almost 9 month long show and closes on June 19, 2011 (9 months for only 28 pieces, some great, some …). I do have some favorite pieces like the balloon cocktail dress pictured in the post and this one

My Blogging Year: 2010 in Review

Just thought I’d share this very neat analysis with all of you! The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Credit: John Michael Garcia

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2010. That’s about 29 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 77 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 94 posts. There were 225 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 474mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was July 22nd with 896 views. The most popular post that day was Memories of Modernism.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for eduardo catalano, peter behrens, rachel whiteread, henry hobson richardson furniture, and philip johnson glass house.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Memories of Modernism July 2010
18 comments and 13 Likes on


A Modernist Walking Tour of the MIT Campus November 2009
1 comment


About Me September 2009


High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture September 2010


31 in 31 of Your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #1 October 2010

12, 000 views just means more blogging! Thanks everyone who takes the time to read the posts on here, it definitely helps knowing that there are people out there who care for these things. Thanks for all the comments and  emails encouraging me to keep writing and for sharing my passion for art and architecture with all of you!