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Kunstmuseum Basel presents its Japanese woodblock prints

They bear witness to the highest level of craftsmanship and feature captivating motifs: For the first time, the Kunstmuseum Basel is presenting a selection of his Japanese woodblock prints, which were donated to the museum in 1942.

"Made in Japan" is the name of the exhibition. "Woodblock prints by Hiroshige, Kunisada and Hokusai" is the subtitle, which probably only means something to a small circle of experts. But it is absolutely worth getting to know the woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries, which the Basel chemist Carl Mettler collected and left to the museum after his death.

Anyone who thinks of woodcuts as rough strokes and lines will be surprised by the extremely delicate lines throughout the volume. This applies to the contemplative landscapes as well as to the fascinatingly colorful and detailed genre scenes, which look like excerpts from comic stories.

The city views and the illustrations of "beautiful women" and expressive Kabuki actors and theater scenes are also absolutely full of detail.

The richness of detail extends to scrolls that can probably only be read with a magnifying glass, or would only be read if you knew Japanese. For example, in the scene with ten female poets and their poems by Kubo Shunman.

Artists, carvers and printers

Unlike in Europe, the woodcuts from Japan are always collaborative works, as curator Judith Rauser said at the media tour on Thursday. The artist delivers a drawing, from which the woodcarver then produces printing plates, which are then put on paper by the printer.

In rare cases, the woodcarver was listed as a co-author, as co-curator Hans Bjarne Thomsen, Professor of East Asian Art History at the University of Zurich, said. He also pointed out that the prints were distributed in large editions of 2000 to 3000 copies - in rare cases, such as the images of the sacred Mount Fuji, there could even be 20,000 copies.

The exhibition "Made in Japan. Woodblock Prints by Hiroshige, Kunisada and Hokusai" at the Kunstmuseum Basel can be seen until July 27.

©Keystone/SDA

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