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Kawanabe Kyōsai

Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889)

Exhibition series "Asian Art Stories" The exhibition Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889) within the exhibition series Asian Art Stories is on view from 1 March until 29 May 2022 at the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE (6 Doma laukums, Riga, Latvia). The exhibition introduces three ukiyo-e works by the 19th-century Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai (河鍋暁斎, 1831–1889), which were acquired by the museum as a donation from the Baltic-German artist Georg Wilhelm Timm (1820–1895).

The output of Kawanabe Kyōsai's creativity was enormous. Living through the changes brought by the transition from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the Meiji period (1868–1912), Kyōsai witnessed Japan transform itself from a feudal country into a modern state. At the end of his life, he had produced hundreds of paintings, prints, and illustrated books with various subjects spanning from traditional to bizarre and fantastic. Kyōsai is still celebrated for his ability to bridge popular culture and traditional art. His creative heritage continues to influence numerous artistic styles in Japan today, from manga to tattoo art.

There are three ukiyo-e works by Kawanabe Kyōsai in the Latvian National Museum of Art collection which demonstrate his ability to bring individuality to traditional themes, to reveal life’s contrasts in a striking way, and to show his views on 19th-century Japanese society during the changing times.

The works were acquired by the museum via the donation of the artist Georg Wilhelm Timm. Timm had a wide range of interests and made efforts to investigate the cultural life of his time in great depth. Timm met with both collectors and artists. These creative personalities used to present their drawings, sketches, and prints to each other. Timm developed particularly close contacts with his artistic colleagues during the time when he was preparing his graphics, and those of others, for publication in the “Russian Art Page” (Русский художественный листок, 1851–1862). As a result, a substantial collection with the graphics of 19th-century German, French, Italian, and Japanese masters was amassed.

In addition to the three Japanese ukiyo-e, a watercolour sketch Japanese Woman in a Garden by Georg Wilhelm Timm in Japonisme style is on display. Japonisme style became widespread after the opening of Japan’s borders in 1858. The influence of Japanese art appears in the creative work of many world-famous 2nd half of the 19th-century Western European artists, with works strikingly in the Japonisme style by Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853–1890), Oscar-Claude Monet (1840–1926), Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) and many others. This work shows not only Timm’s interest in new tendencies in European art but also his passion for ceramics as the Japanese woman in the sketch is painting porcelain.

The exhibition series Asian Art Stories produced by the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE encourages to discover and understand certain artworks, techniques, functions as well as their philosophical, religious, cultural, and contextual significance. Western viewers have always been fascinated with Asian art by its extraordinary form, technique, and aesthetic view. The Asian Art Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art has several thousand artworks from different Asian countries, however, only part of them are exhibited at the Asian Art Gallery of the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE. By showing one artwork or a group of objects, within the exhibition series, we will discover these exceptional stories that often remain unheard