Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, a Providence native, gave the RISD Museum an encyclopedic collection of Japanese bird-and-flower woodblock prints in 1934. They were created in the late 18th century when printmakers were experimenting with new subject matter and techniques, often borrowing from painting traditions. Artists were moving beyond typical representations of courtesans and kabuki actors printed in only two or three colors. Now they began to create “brocade prints,” often using at least a dozen colors. Many of the new nature prints had their compositional source in the elaborate bird-and-flower paintings of the Kano tradition, an academic school of painting derived from Chinese models. Other prints show the influence of the “cut-branch” tradition of Chinese flower painting or earlier native Japanese styles. The flowers and birds have symbolic meanings that are integral to their appreciation.
Together these works convey the vitality of the Japanese printmaking tradition at a very important moment of evolution and experimentation.