Luxury on Paper
The Art of Surimono

March 9–December 1, 2013

Exquisite 19th-century Japanese prints

Nineteenth-century Japanese color printing’s highest level of accomplishment is seen in the small, exquisite works known as surimono, which were produced on commission for private, individual customers. Because they were not sold to the general public, these prints were not limited either by government sumptuary laws intended to curb extravagance, or by economic prudence on the part of publishers. They could be as elegantly designed and luxuriously printed as the patrons requested.

Privately commissioned prints were printed on high-quality paper and often included special features such as metallic pigments and embossing. They were used as commemorations of events in the theatrical world and programs for musical concerts; but most often, they were exchanged as New Year gifts by the affluent members of amateur literary clubs vying to produce the most beautiful, ingenious works.

“Luxury on Paper” displays especially fine examples grouped by their subjects: the kabuki theater, literary and historical references, beautiful women, animals, and objects. Originally created to delight the personal friends of the patrons who commissioned them, the works will surely have the same effect on MFA visitors.

Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), Actors Ichikawa Danjūrō VII (inset) and His Son Ichikawa Ebizō VI (Danjūrō VIII), Japanese, Edo period, 1832 (Tenpō 3). Woodblock print (Surimono). Ink and color on paper. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection.


With generous support from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Exhibition Fund and the Dr. Robert A. and Dr. Veronica Petersen Fund for Exhibitions.