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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the work of 20th-century modern Japanese print artists

In the 20th century, printmaking in Japan became not just a way of producing popular images but a fine art form. No longer constrained by the requirements of commercial publishing, artists were able to exploit the color woodblock process as far as their imaginations could take them, and to experiment with new Western media as well.

This exhibition showcases the MFA’s holdings in the area of 20th-century Japanese prints, including both shin hanga made by the traditional collaborative method and sōsaku hanga produced by a single artist working alone. Prints are shown along with preliminary drawings, woodblocks, artists’ proofs, and variant versions printed from the same blocks, highlighting the interplay of creativity and technique in printmaking.

A variety of materials, from Takei Takeo’s miniature artist books to large collaborative prints, gives visitors an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the work of modern Japanese print artists.

The exhibition’s centerpiece is the complete set of the six large prints entitled Sailboats (1926) by Yoshida Hiroshi. This iconic work, probably the single best-known example of shin hanga, collaborative method, uses the same woodblocks printed in six different color schemes to show the boats at different times of day; the printing is so skillful that works from this series are sometimes mistaken for watercolors.

Above: Yoshida Hiroshi, Sailboats: Morning, from the series Inland Sea, Taisho era–Showa era, 1926. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Chinese and Japanese Special Fund.