In New Perspectives: Early 20th Century Bijin-ga, Ronin Gallery invites you to consider modern “pictures of beautiful women” with fresh eyes. Featuring the work of renowned artists such as Goyo, Kotondo, and Shinsui, this exhibition looks beyond nostalgic appeal to explore these woodblock prints as vital reflections of their cultural context. As Japan wrestled with identity on a national level, woodblock print artists working in the field of bijin-ga or “pictures of beautiful women,” sought to redefine both the genre and the medium. Simultaneously, the women at the heart of these prints fought for a position in Japanese society. Blending the familiar with the new, the past with the present, these works contribute to a national conversation: Who was the modern Japanese woman? What was the role of the woodblock print of in the modern era?
The turn-of-the-century popularity of ukiyo-e abroad prompted a reappraisal of the woodblock tradition within Japan. This international acceptance sparked a shift in the perception of the medium–from private viewing to public exhibitions, commercial ephemera to fine art. As the artists of the Shin Hanga, or “new print” movement embraced foreign influence and a newfound global audience, they asserted the genres of ukiyo-e with renewed vigor. From shimmering mica and richly textured kimono, to blushing contours and individually discernable strands of hair, these sumptuous prints reveal the skill of the artist as they lend a tangibility to the subject.
Beyond the printed page, Japanese women were defining modern femininity. As they worked for greater economic and social freedom, the moga (“modern girl”) challenged staid expectations of womanhood, sparking larger conversations about gender roles and class. These portraits are as ripe with cultural negotiation as the historical climate from whence they came.