The Japanese artist Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) had completed 93 of a series of 100 woodblock prints of Tokyo when the city was destroyed by fire in 1881. More than half of these prints are now on display in Washington DC’s Arthur M Sackler Gallery (see slideshow below), one of the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art.
Set at dawn, dusk and during the night, Kiyochika’s images show a near-empty city. Some (like the first picture below) capture traditional Edo, as Tokyo was known until 1868; others depict the city’s modern incarnation with its brick buildings, railways and gas lighting.
The woodcuts were made using Japanese techniques but the artist was influenced by western art: Kiyochika gave traditional art a modern look. The overall effect is one of “unease”, says James Ulak, exhibition curator: “Some viewers say they can feel the silence in his prints.”
‘Kiyochika: Master of the Night’ is at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery until July 27, asia.si.edu.