Beauty and Bravado in Japanese Woodblock Prints

Exhibition to open January 16, 2009

Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867), Reclining couple reading a love letter, ca. 1804-1818. Color woodblock print. Gift of Gillett G. Griffin in honor of Dale Roylance. Graphic Arts Division

A reception and gallery tour will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, 2009, for the opening of “Beauty and Bravado in Japanese Woodblock Prints: Highlights from the Gillett G. Griffin Collection” in the Milberg Gallery of the Princeton University Library.

Yashima Gakutei (1786?-1868), Number Five: Dancers on Stage (from the series The Dance at Furuichi for the Hisakatayo Poetry Group), ca. 1822. Color woodblock print. Gift of Gillett G. Griffin in honor of Dale Roylance. Graphic Arts Division

The prints on display offer examples of changing fashions and evolving print technologies in Japan from the late 1600s to the mid-1800s. They are part of the collection donated by Gillett Griffin, curator emeritus of the Princeton University Graphic Arts Collection, in honor of Dale Roylance. The exhibition will be on view from January 18 to June 7, 2009.

In 1947, when Griffin was a student at Yale University’s School of Fine Arts, one of his professors invited a Japanese print dealer to visit. Gillett’s eye fell on a small black-and-white print, which he purchased for the enormous sum of $2.00. The dealer was impressed that such a young man would see the beauty in what turned out to be a print by Hishikawa Moronobu (ca. 1618-1694).

Four New York art sales that winter featured Japanese prints, three at Parke-Bernet and one at Gimbels Department Store (both Gimbels and Macy’s sold fine art in those days). Griffin made it to three of the four sales, and by the end of the year had a collection of almost seventy classic Japanese woodblock prints. “I really had no money,” he said. “But this was only a few years after Pearl Harbor and there was still a great deal of hostility and so, not many buyers.” Griffin continued to study and collect for more than sixty years.

A lecture on Japanese prints will be given by Julie Davis, Professor of Art History, University of Pennsylvania, on Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 3:00 p.m. in 101 McCormick Hall, followed by a reception in the Milberg Gallery. The Milberg Gallery is open to the public, free of charge, weekdays 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Wednesday evenings, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.; and weekends, noon to 5:00 p.m. The gallery is located on the second floor of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University, One Washington Road, Princeton, New Jersey. For information on visiting the campus, see:

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786-1865), Chapter Thirty-four: Wakana No Jô, from the series: Parody on the Fifty-four Chapters of the Tale of Genji (Genji gojûyojô), 1858, 9th month. Signed: Toyokuni ga. Publisher: Wakasaya Yoichi. Ôban tate-e diptych. Color woodblock print (nishiki-e).