The Floating World: Japanese Prints from the Bancroft Collection

November 26, 2022 – March 5, 2023

Katsushika Hokusai, <em>Old View of the Eight-plank Bridge in Mikawa Province (Mikawa no Yatsuhashi no kozu),</em> about 1833-34, woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Katsushika Hokusai, Old View of the Eight-plank Bridge in Mikawa Province (Mikawa no Yatsuhashi no kozu), about 1833-34, woodblock print; ink and color on paper, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.755

This fall, travel hundreds of years through one of the most culturally abundant periods in world history. The Floating World: Japanese Prints from the Bancroft Collection will illustrate the beauty of everyday life through 50 Japanese woodblock prints from the Museum’s collection, 48 of which will be displayed for the first time. The exhibition pulls directly from WAM’s Bancroft Collection of over 3,700 Japanese prints—the first collection of its kind in the United States.

The Floating World will focus specifically on ukiyo-e artworks, a diverse genre of art created throughout Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). Translating to “pictures of the floating world,” ukiyo-e prints often depict scenes of leisure and arts regularly enjoyed by the working class during an age of great economic growth. These prints tell stories in the form of intricate tableaus portraying courtesans, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, dwellings, and landscapes. Intricate and colorful, ukiyo-e prints center themes like resilience and pride, ideas we celebrate today.

Given to the Museum in 1901, the collection of John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901) is considered WAM’s first major collection. The Floating World will illustrate the breadth of Bancroft’s collection, displaying artworks that range in size, material, date, and subject matter, with renowned artists including Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kunisada, and Utagawa Hiroshige. Featuring artworks like Hiroshige’s Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake (1857), which inspired a painting by Vincent van Gogh, The Floating World provides opportunities to come closer to artists whose influences are evident in cultural expression around the world.

This exhibition is curated by Dr. Rachel Parikh, Associate Curator of the Arts of Asia and the Islamic World and Fiona Collins, Curatorial Assistant of Asian Art.

Press Release

Early research for this exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Philip and Ellen Phillips.

Selected Images

Utagawa Hiroshige, Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake (Ōhashi Atake no yūdachi), 1857, 9th month, woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Utagawa Hiroshige, Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake (Ōhashi Atake no yūdachi), 1857, 9th month, woodblock print; ink and color on paper, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.59.1275
Utagawa Hiroshige, Maple Trees at Mama, Tekona Shrine and Linked Bridge (Mama no momiji Tekona no yashiro Tsugihashi), 1857, 1st month, woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Utagawa Hiroshige, Maple Trees at Mama, Tekona Shrine and Linked Bridge (Mama no momiji Tekona no yashiro Tsugihashi), 1857, 1st month, woodblock print; ink and color on paper, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.59.1310
Kikukawa Eizan, Women in Front of the Iwaki Masuya Department Store, early 1800s, woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Kikukawa Eizan, Women in Front of the Iwaki Masuya Department Store, early 1800s, woodblock print; ink and color on paper, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.59.2623
Utagawa Kunisada, Women Divers for Shells of the Awabi at Ise, intercalary 5th month, June 1865, woodblock print
Utagawa Kunisada, Women Divers for Shells of the Awabi at Ise, intercalary 5th month, June 1865, woodblock print, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.141
Katsushika Hokusai, Yōrō Waterfall in Mino Province (Mino no Yōrō no taki), about 1833, woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Katsushika Hokusai, Yōrō Waterfall in Mino Province (Mino no Yōrō no taki), about 1833, woodblock print; ink and color on paper, John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.739