Journey to Edo
Japanese ukiyo-e prints from the collection of Jerzy Leskowicz
25 February 2017 – 7 May 2017
In late February 2017, the National Museum in Warsaw is set to open a large-scale exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the collection of Jerzy Leskowicz. The show’s title, Journey to Edo, tellingly reflects its organisers’ intention to conjure up a fascinating trip to Japan across the late 18th and early 19th centuries, during the Edo Period (1600–1858), as they bring to a wider public the masterpieces contained in this world-class private collection. The journey will trace the era’s two main routes spread between Japan’s picturesque hideaways and linking the country’s two foremost cities: the stately, serene Imperial capital of Kyoto and the seat of the Shogun – the bustling, plebeian Edo (modern-day Tokyo), one of the world largest cities then, as well as today. Immortalised in rare prints, by artists such as Utamaro, Sharaku, Hiroshige, Hokusai and several other masters of ukiyo-e woodblock printing, are captivating images of the Japan of yore, its landscapes, roads, wildernesses, and people – from ordinary folk absorbed in everyday concerns, wanderers enduring the heat or rain and people at work or rest in roadside shelters, to mounted Samurai processions en-route to the Shogun’s court or returning home.
What makes the collection amassed by Jerzy Leskowicz so exceptional is not only the fact that the collector managed to acquire complete series of landscapes that would go down as masterpieces of Japanese woodblock printing (such as “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō” or “The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido”) but also that the prints themselves are works of immense charm and great value as first editions. The exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw is sure to be a spectacular event as no other collection in Poland—private or public—boasts as rich an assortment.
Alongside exquisite landscapes, the exhibition features a number of extremely rare portraits of kabuki actors by Toshusai Sharaku (active 1794–1795), of whose works only a scant 160 or so survive to this day; the ones in Leskowicz’s collection being first editions no less. The same goes for Kitagawa Utamaro’s (1753–1806) famed portraits of beautiful women (bijin-ga): more than a dozen first editions by this great artist will be on display in the exhibition.
The prints, numbering more than 300, will be accompanied by old Japanese maps and books, including a famous complete set of 15 volumes of sketches by Hokusai titled, Manga (another first edition), and another complete and outstanding first edition album by the same artist titled, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.
Adding to the exhibition’s appeal is the fact that all of the works from the Leskowicz collection are preserved in excellent condition, despite the passage of time and the fragility of the materials, their vivid colours demonstrate why the Japanese called them nishiki-e – “brocade pictures”.
One room of the exhibition will be reserved for educational activities and will hold a variety of authentic 19th-century materials, implements and tools used in print-making. This room will also feature a selection of short films examining the print-maker’s trade and detailing the various steps in the production of these colourful woodblock prints.