AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – Considered to be the largest assemblage of Japanese woodblock prints in Europe, and scarcely ever seen before by the public, the collection of Georges Leskowicz, a Polish art dealer, will go on display starting Friday in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence.
The exhibit titled “Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro: The Grand Masters of Japan” will be housed in the Caumont Palace and will feature more than 150 original prints from the 1,800-plus that the collector has acquired.
To date, Leskowicz had only displayed selected works from his collection in Warsaw in 2017.
The art dealer said that his is the largest collection of this kind of art in Europe and the largest in the world of Hiroshige (1797-1858), the famed master of the exquisitely detailed “ukiyo-e” style of woodblock prints and painting.
Samples of the ukiyo-e style – the most popular style of Japanese prints – and “surimono,” a more exclusive style, have been selected for the exhibition in Aix-en-Provence, the organizer of the exposition, Anna Katarzyna Maleszko, told EFE.
Standing out among the prints to be featured in the show are Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” as well as the “100 Famous Views of Edo” (i.e. ancient Tokyo) series by Hiroshige, along with assorted portraits and erotic scenes by Utamaro.
Leskowicz emphasized the details that reveal the uniqueness of the first works on display and the degradation over time of the colors within those works.
The sharp prints are beautiful historic representations that allow the viewer to travel through the Japan of the Edo era (1603-1868), a period during which the country remained isolated from the world under the strict governance of the “shogun” (military general) and the samurai warrior class.
The surimono works, which are difficult to find on display anywhere in the world, are of great value due to their exclusivity and high quality. These prints were commissioned by members of Japan’s literary elite and combine poetry with a more sophisticated version of the ukiyo-e illustration, Maleszko said.
A wide number of themes are to be found in the works: scenes from middle class daily life, extravagant pornographic representations with touches of humor, myths and legends from Japanese culture, portraits of beautiful courtesans in their private moments, samurai warriors and “kabuki” actors from the traditional Japanese theater, along with landscapes in all four seasons and New Year’s rituals.
Japan’s realist ukiyo-e illustrative style has had a great influence on both Japanese and Western comics and cartoons, as well as on the works of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet, who also collected pieces of this kind.