highlights international perspective

Arthur Wesley Dow, (American, 1857-1922)

Snowy Peak, Los Angeles

Linoleum cut, ca. 1911.

9.6 by 14.5 cm

Dow's passion for Hokusai and Japanese woodblock prints brought him to the next logical local institution: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), where he met the illustrious Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), famed for his scholarship of Japanese art, perhaps even more so in Japan than in America. Fenollosa had gone to Japan in 1878 and stayed for twelve years. He helped found the Tokyo Fine Arts Academy as well as the Imperial Museum, where he acted as the director. In 1890 he left Japan in order to take up the position of Curator of Oriental Art at the MFA. In Fenollosa, Dow found a simpatico mentor and supporter, and access to an exceptional collection of Japanese art.

Fenollosa hired Dow as a part-time assistant, which led to another vital MFA contact: the print curator, Sylvester R. Koehler (1837-1900), who shared his own comprehensive research on Japanese prints with Dow. In 1891 Koehler organized an exhibition devoted to Japanese woodblock printmaking at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The exhibition included a full set of printmaking tools and materials which were donated to the museum by T. Tokuno, the head of the Japanese Bureau of Engraving and Printing. In 1893, an article on the technical details of Japanese printmaking by Tokuno and edited by Koehler was published by the Smithsonian. This was the first authoritative resource on the Japanese printing process published in English, and several artists, including Dow and Emil Orlik (no. 3) made significant use of it.

In 1892 Dow began experimenting with woodblock prints, carving and printing his own small-format works; he was likely the first American to try his hand at color woodblock printing. But unlike the Japanese method which involves separate craftsmen to carve and print the blocks, Dow relished handling each step himself. Rather than focus on the mechanical reproduction of a given image, Dow was interested in the creative opportunity each step allowed; in particular, the manipulation of color.

In 1895, Fenollosa mounted an exhibition of Dow's prints, The Ipswich Prints, in a corridor at the MFA and wrote an introduction in the small exhibition catalogue that discussed Japanese techniques and their relevance to Western art. Using only fifteen designs, Dow created nearly two hundred variations in color. The following year, The Ipswich Prints were exhibited in San Francisco at the Vickery Gallery, the same gallery that represented Helen Hyde (cat. nos. 4-8). In 1903 Dow met Hyde at her home and studio in Tokyo where she told him it was the Ipswich Prints show that inspired her to become a printmaker.

Provenance:
The Estate of Arthur Wesley Dow

Reference:
Chazen Museum of Art, Color Woodcut International, 2006, p. 32

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site last updated
September 22, 2020

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
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