La Belle Epoque

Woodblock printing declined in Europe after 1450 with the invention of the metal Gutenberg press but continued in isolated, pre-industrial Japan for another four hundred years.


Contemporary woodblock print showing Commodore Perry (middle) .
Perry’s arrival with the US Fleet in Yokahama in 1854 triggered the end of Japan’s 200 year policy of seclusion and the imposition of “Unequal Treaties” by the West.

By the middle of the nineteenth century woodblock printing had reached its technical zenith in Japan, coinciding with the forcible opening of the country to wider Western influences.

After 1854 Japanese artists, engineers, doctors and scientists were sent en masse to Europe in a concerted national effort to learn modern methods and avoid the capitulation to Western Powers experienced by China.

Artists were sent primarily to Paris which was seen as the centre of European culture and here they were influenced mainly by impressionist painters, to whom they also imparted their own oriental styles.

The returning artists brought back new ideas to Japan concerning colour, light, perpective and form culminating in one final supernova of creativity at the turn of the century before subsequent long-term decline in the years following industrializaton.

Art of Kyoto offers for sale many of the original masterpieces created in Japan during these Belle Epoque years.

The world heritage value of these prints is evidenced by the fact that most are also held by major national collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum New York, the Smithsonian Museum New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Rijksmuseum and Tokyo National Museum.