Arts and Culture
After the opening of the Japanese ports in 1853, a tidal wave of Japanese art, craft objects, and bric-à-brac flooded the European markets. On the crest of that wave were the Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo period (1603-1868), which were treasured for their romanticized and traditional depictions of feminine beauty, kabuki actors, and landscapes. In contrast, prints of the Meiji period (1868-1912) were disregarded due to the common (mis)conception that all Meiji prints revealed strident coloration and nontraditional topics. Even Belgian japonisme enthusiasts and art critics came to the same conclusion after Edmond Michotte (1831-1914) organized a private viewing of both Edo and Meiji period woodcuts in Brussels in 1889. Following this soirée, articles were published lamenting the supposed decadent state of Meiji prints, claiming that with their gaudy colors and unusual topics they had abandoned the Edo period splendor and originality. Despite this general perception towards Meiji prints, the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) now houses nearly 270 Meiji woodcuts. If this perception is justified, then why did the RMAH acquire this vast body of Meiji prints? To answer this question, this paper aims to shed light on three elements. Firstly, it examines the development of this perception by conducting a literary study on Western sources discussing Edo and Meiji period woodblock prints. Secondly, using the RMAH’s archives, it analyzes the incentives behind the acquisition. Finally, while analyzing the prints of the RMAH, it seeks to confirm or deny the general perception towards Meiji prints.